Gang shootings — and homicides — still rare in Elgin
By Dave Gathman firstname.lastname@example.org June 11, 2012 4:42PM
Protesters march to the Galarza family home in Elgin on Oct. 15, 2011. Five-year-old Eric Galarza, who was a resident of the home, was struck and killed by a bullet intended for his father during a gang-related shooting. | Sun-Times Media~File Photo
Updated: July 13, 2012 6:11AM
ELGIN — For the second year in a row, this city of 105,000 got almost halfway through the year without a single person being murdered.
Last year, the first homicide occurred on the Fourth of July.
This year, it happened last Thursday, June 7, when 16-year-old Nestor A. Alvarado of Elgin was killed in what police believe to be a gang shooting.
But statistics show that gang shootings remain relatively rare in Elgin, and that they account for only a small percentage of the homicides.
But if 2012 plays out the way 2011 did, the city could end up with several more murders before the year is over.
Police reported no new developments in the Alvarado investigation Monday. According to sketchy details released so far, the high school student was riding with several other people in a car in the 800 block of East Chicago Street at about 7:40 p.m. Thursday when someone fired at least one bullet into the vehicle. That bullet hit Alvarado in the chest.
The car apparently continued driving for several minutes until police officers, who had been radioed a description of the vehicle, stopped it about two miles away, at Dundee Avenue and Symphony Way. Alvarado was pronounced dead a short time later at Provena St. Joseph Hospital.
Despite the recent murder, the number of Elgin shootings and gang-motivated shootings — including those where no one was wounded — is down considerably from recent years. Police Lt. Dan O’Shea said the city has experienced only three gang-related shooting incidents this year, plus seven believed to be non-gang-related.
By comparison, Elgin had at least 17 gang shootings last year, 21 in 2010 and 14 in 2009.
During 2008, there were a whopping 37. And even that number pales in comparison to surges of Elgin gang warfare that produced 81 shootings in 1995, 56 in 1997, 70 in 1998 and 54 in 2004.
It pales even more compared to outbreaks of gang violence in Aurora, where there were 280 gang-related shootings in 2002 alone.
Last year, no one in Elgin died by another’s hand until late on the night of the Fourth of July, when a middle-aged Arthur Drive homeowner named Donald Rattanavong saw four teenagers hanging around the cars parked in his driveway and along his front curb. He shouted at the boys to leave and fired three warning shots into the darkness from a pistol he had been carrying in his pocket. One hit teenager Guillermo Pineda in the head, killing him.
When the case went to a Cook County jury this spring, Rattanavong was found innocent of manslaughter but guilty of reckless discharge of a firearm. He is serving 18 months in state prison.
No connection between gangs and the shooting has been suggested.
Four more homicides would follow in 2011:
On the balmy evening of Sunday, July 10 — less than a week after the Arthur Drive tragedy — 34-year-old Lucio Estrada was standing on his front porch along Franklin Street, less than a block from Sheridan Elementary School, when someone walking past suddenly pulled out a pistol and shot him several times. Investigators believe the shooting was gang-related.
It was the first of just two gang-related killings during the year and the only one of the five 2011 homicides for which no suspect has been arrested.
After midnight on Aug. 10, a homeless alcoholic named Richard Gibbons was sleeping in an alley next to the Fulton Street Parking Deck when some late-night partiers returning to their parked car allegedly started teasing him from the deck’s top floor. After an exchange of words, police allege, Yancarlo Garcia of Chicago threw a fire extinguisher down into the alley, striking Gibbons and causing major abdominal injuries.
Gibbons lingered in a hospital for nearly a month, but died of his injuries on Sept. 4.
Garcia is awaiting trial on a charge of first-degree murder.
In a gang-related case that drew attention across the Chicago area, a car containing a man, two women and three children was backing out of a driveway on Elma Avenue on Oct. 7 when someone walked up to it and fired a volley of gunshots into the vehicle. One bullet went into the head of 5-year-old Eric Galarza Jr., killing him. A week later, Miguel Hernandez Jr., 27, of Aurora was charged with first-degree murder. He is awaiting trial.
According to police, both the 5-year-old’s father, Eric Galarza Sr., and Hernandez are members of one of Elgin’s biggest street gangs and both have lengthy arrest records. Prosecutors believe the real target of Hernandez’s wrath that night was Galarza Sr., who was riding in the car.
In a bizarre case tied to robbery and drug use, 61-year-old James S. Granger was found dead in his burning apartment in the Times Square Apartments on Dec. 17, killed not by fire but by stab wounds. Police believe he was murdered by Marvin G. Finklea, 27, and Jessica Leach, 28, both of Elgin, as they tried to rob him.
Later that same day, police allege, Finklea tried to hijack two vehicles along East Chicago Street. One woman reported Finklea pulled her out of her car, got in and then crashed into the window of a liquor store. Moments later, Finklea grabbed onto a moving SUV and hung onto it in an effort to take it over before he fell off onto the pavement, suffering injuries that caused him to die five days later.
Leach is awaiting trial on a charge of first-degree murder.