Giving someone a wrong look at a KFC. A skateboarder who knew gang members in his neighborhood. While police may not know for sure what the motive was, these senseless explanations may have been all it took to take the lives of two Valley residents.
Police are searching for the killers of Angel Maciel and Jorge Reyes, Jr. and — with friends and family members — are asking for the public’s help.
Maciel, 28, was gunned down last Oct. 29 at approximately 3:40 p.m., while skateboarding in the 9900 block of Stanwin Avenue in Arleta. Reyes, 23, was shot and killed in the parking lot of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on Balboa Boulevard in Northridge on last Dec. 31 at approximately 6:05 p.m.
The investigation into Reyes’ death has stalled to a point where detectives are now asking for the public’s help in finding a suspect named Derek Bryan Dominguez. His current location is unknown although police believe he is still somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. Dominguez also has connections in the Antelope Valley and Bakersfield, police said.
Police first arrested Mallely Espinoza in January. But Espinoza was eventually released after the District Attorney’s office decided not to file a case.
On the other hand, a warrant was filed for the arrest of Dominguez, Espinoza’s boyfriend. Photos of the suspect were released by police on Tuesday.
“He’s believed to be the shooter in the case,” said Detective Ryan Verna, an investigator with the Valley Homicide Bureau in Van Nuys. “He’s presumed to be armed and dangerous. Our last and best known information is he is in the area. I’m asking anyone with knowledge about Derek’s whereabouts to contact me.”
Verna said neither Dominguez nor Reyes knew each other. “The best we could tell it was a ‘disrespect’ issue. It’s believed that a simple look — the wrong look — caused this incident.
“The long and short of it is, Derek was with his girlfriend and their kids in the KFC ordering food. At some point and time there was a group of people who arrived, and there was a look or glance at Derek, which caused Derek to become upset. Derek walked outside, there was a confrontation that occurred, and Derek fired [a weapon] and killed Jorge Reyes, Jr. And since then Derek’s been on the run,” Verna said.
Regarding Maciel’s killer, Verna said a $50,000 reward from the LA City Council, from a motion sponsored by Councilmember Nury Martinez, is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the assailants. The reward is available for a period of six months although the timelines for offers have been extended beyond their original expiration date.
The detective and other investigators have been investigating Maciel’s killing for five months and had developed “some leads that went nowhere.” But Verna was reticent about revealing many details.
“We like to keep the information we have in-house,” Verna said. “The minute we go to the media, it get’s blown up. [But it’s also been] five months of frustration.”
On Tuesday, LAPD officials released video of Maciel skateboarding down the street. It is followed by a four-door green Honda Accord, model year 1998-2000, traveling northbound at a high rate of speed after the shooting occurred.
Investigators believe the auto exited the neighborhood from Carl Street, and out toward Van Nuys Boulevard.
“Angel was accosted by multiple people from that Honda Accord, and then shot and killed,” Verna said. “We’re looking for information about that vehicle or anybody who would have owned, driven or been associated with that vehicle.”
The most meaningful thing on the video, Verna said, was the car itself. “There are some distinct features there, but I’m not gonna get into what they are. Anybody with a keen sense about vehicles can spot them. But if I get more leads, I want to be able to sort out those details myself….But there’s no doubt this is the vehicle.”
Verna did say he did not believe Maciel’s death was a random shooting.
“The neighborhood [Maciel] was in is a gang neighborhood. There is a gang that claims that area,” Verna said. “[Maciel’s] not from a gang. However, he did have friends from the gang in the area.”
He said investigators also don’t believe Reyes was a gang member. But If neither victims were affiliated with gangs themselves, investigators think that the circumstances of their deaths were still the kind of senseless circumstances too often inflicted upon young men of color.
“I’ve worked gangs for 15 years of my career. I can tell you it’s very common for younger men — especially male Hispanics and male blacks — to be walking in an area and be hit up by a rival gang member and asked where they’re from. Which, in gang terms, is what neighborhood are you from,” Verna said.
“It’s not where do you live or what street do you live on. It’s more ‘what gang do you bang with?’ I’m not saying that’s what happened in this case; but it is typical, and I don’t doubt that it could have happened in this case….If we know that it’s a gang neighborhood, other gang members and rivals know it, too.”
He later added that, “Respect, and lack of respect, is also very common in gang culture, and ‘the lack of respect’ is the thing that’s gonna get you killed.”
Stephanie Vargas, who was introduced at the press conference as Maciel’s girlfriend, pleaded for people to provide information that could help identify his killer or killers.
“I really want, if anybody out there has any information, to please help us — us as his family really need some closure. We really want to know who did it,” said Vargas, who added that she and the victim “knew each other our whole lives and had been romantically involved for four years.
“We’re not gonna rest until we find out who it is,” she said. “We just want justice, and we want to know why or who did it. That’s all we want. “It’s hard for us not to know who it is. It’s a big, empty feeling we have.”
She described Maciel — as “a really outgoing, caring person” and “someone you could call and he would be there for you.”
“Maybe his appearance wasn’t all that, but he was a really generous guy, a person with a really big heart,” Vargas said. “He was not a gang member. He would look out for other people before he would look out for himself.”
She added that Marciel — who was raised in the Valley, had grown up on Stanwin Avenue “since he was 15” and who worked as a floor-maker — was hanging out with a friend on the day he was killed.
“He was just riding his skateboard. That was one of his hobbies,” she said.
Vargas said she knew of no one Maciel “had problems with” during the time she was his girlfriend.
“The pain in are hearts is going to be there, regardless, the rest of our lives. We really need this closure,” she said.