Teen arrested following reports of racial taunts

By Scott Graves

Triplicate staff writer

Two Crescent City families with small children escaped injuries early Thursday after a group of teen-agers opened fire on their apartments on Eighth Street, authorities said.

Four Asian teen-agers were arrested on suspicion of shooting into one occupied apartment and then coming back a short time later and shooting at the apartment next door, said Crescent City Police Officer Roger Chindgren.

Johnson Saivong, 18, and three juveniles, one 17 and two 16, were booked into the Del Norte County Jail on charges of firing at an occupied home, criminal conspiracy, death threats and engaging in criminal gang activity.

The shootings stemmed from a verbal argument between the Asian teens and two white teens hanging out in front of the apartment complex, Chindgren said.

The shooting was racially based, not gang related, he said.

I dont want people to think we have a major gang problem. We dont, Chindgren said. This was just two groups making racial comments at each other and it got out of hand.

Tays Salazar and his girlfriend Brandy Mendoza were sleeping upstairs with their two children, ages 2 and 5, when gunfire erupted outside their apartment at 11:43 p.m. Wednesday.

I had just gone to sleep when I heard this boom! Salazar said.

Pellets from the shotgun went through the downstairs window and across the empty living room into the back wall.

Mendoza said she felt lucky that her kids, who sometimes stay up late in the living room or sleep on the couch, were not hurt.

Upon hearing the shots, Salazar looked out the upstairs bedroom window to see a group of Asian teens, one of which was firing at the apartment from across the street.

It was the same group, Salazar said, that had been swapping racial slurs with two white teen-agers in the street earlier that evening.

Salazar said he ran out of the house, yelling and chasing after the teen-agers.

Authorities arrived a few minutes later, but the suspects had scattered, Chindgren said.

Chindgren, along with California Highway Patrol officers and several sheriffs deputies, interviewed people in the neighborhood, but were unable to identify the shooters, he said.

Authorities left the scene at about 1:30 a.m. Thursday. The group of Asian teens returned a half-hour later armed with the shotgun and a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

This time they opened fire on the apartment next door to Salazars. One bullet went through the living room window.

A woman and her two children, ages 2 and 3, were sleeping in the second apartment, authorities said. The womans father, Randolph Ortiz, was not home at the time.

With all the lead flying, I feel fortunate that nobody was hurt, Chindgren said.

At the time of the second shooting, Salazar and another person followed the Asian teens to a house down the street.

Authorities arrived and arrested four suspects at the house based on the descriptions given by Salazar and other witnesses, Chindgren said.

Two guns, a sawed-off 12-gauge pump shotgun and the pistol, were found in the house, he said.

Chindgren said all four suspects were known to police, but none had serious criminal records.