Vol 7 No. 29 - April 11, 2007

Gang-related gunfire erupts on Easter

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH - Two men, including one who had gang-related tattoos, were arrested Sunday following a shooting that seriously wounded three people as a crowd of Easter celebrants watched at Coquina Beach. Bradenton Beach Police suspect the shooting was in retaliation for the gang-related shooting of Saul Herrera in Bradenton on March 28.

The suspects are Rene Vasquez-Mendoza, 22, and 22-year-old Santiago Delgado, both from Plant City. Vasquez-Mendoza was charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder, and both men were charged with carrying a concealed firearm, improper exhibition of a firearm and discharge of a firearm in public. The suspects were caught with a 380 automatic and a 22-caliber revolver. Delgado admitted shooting his gun into the ground, according to Bradenton Beach Police Detective Lenard Diaz.

The victims, who were airlifted by Bayflight to Bayfront Medical Center, are 27-year-old Salvador Estrada, 20-year-old Jose Estrada and a 17-year-old male whose identity was not released because he is a minor. The three are brothers from Arcadia. They were listed in serious but stable condition Sunday night. All three were reportedly shot in the chest.

Diaz said that extra law enforcement was on duty because they feared there might be violence stemming from the earlier shooting in Bradenton.

"There were more than 40 officers from the Multi-Agency Gang Task Force, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office CERT/TACT team and members of the Bradenton Police Department, as well as our own officers," he said. "Witnesses said the shooting took place in an area where there were families and children. It's a miracle one of them wasn't shot."

Diaz said some of the law enforcement officers were within 100 yards of the shooting when it occurred.

The crowd of up to 10,000 people cleared out of the beach parking lot, according to police who asked them to leave. Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie was incensed at the violence.

"I have been trying for five years to get the county to change that area so that there is one way in and one way out with no circulation," Chappie said. "It's a terrible situation. Maybe they should close down the beach on Easter."

The Manatee County Parks and Recreation Department, in collaboration with Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale has drawn up preliminary plans to limit traffic circulation and allow police to close down certain areas of the lot. Chappie said it's time for the county to act on it.

"We haven't seen any movement on that plan," he said. "How many shootings or stabbings does it take before the county commission does something?"

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