Friday, July 20, 2012

Help the Cowboys Solve Raul Lopez's Murder

Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.  Photo: Google Street View.

We hadn't planned on eating out the evening of July 8th, 2012, but because of a mishap in our kitchen Mr. Sprocket and I got to hear a gut-wrenching eye witness account of a murder that happened right near us in Sherman Oaks.  Here's what happened.

Mr. Sprocket often cooks our breakfast and dinner and that Sunday was no exception.  We try to follow a diet based on our blood type and Mr. Sprocket, household cook, is sensitive to restaurant food that is often over-salted for his taste.  One of my simple pleasures is eating on the back patio where we can enjoy our meal and watch the aerial acrobatics of our resident hummingbirds. I could watch them for hours chasing each other for control of the best flowers and the hummingbird feeders.

It happened while I was trying to carry the various pots and dishes of wild salmon, steamed broccoli and brown rice out to the patio.  I set the glass rice dish on top of the dryer to open the back door and no sooner did I let go of it that it went flying.  The hot glass bowl broke into a gazillion pieces, sending rice and glass everywhere, even into the plate of salmon and bowl of broccoli.  Realizing we could not be certain that we picked all the glass out of the food, everything ended up in the trash and we started negotiating about where we would go for dinner.  Mr. Sprocket's first and only choice is always Thai food; mine is Mediterranean.  I won.  We cleaned up the kitchen and drove to the boulevard.

There is a nice mile or so section of Ventura Blvd., in Sherman Oaks that is jammed with a variety of small businesses, unique shops and restaurants.  Part of this street-based open mall consists of an area called The Village at Sherman Oaks, which is about half a block from where we were going.

We had not been to Mamani's in a long time.  We love their grilled vegetables and the fact that they don't add salt to the marinade in their kabobs and 'Lule Beef.'  It's one of the few places we like.  Not long after we sat down, out of the blue Mr. Sprocket starts up a conversation with a couple seated at a nearby table, asking if they knew about the murder that happened next door at "Hoagies & Wings" over a week prior on Friday, June 29th.  Amazingly, they were both dining at Mamani's and had witnessed the event.

Friday night, June 29th around 11:00 PM was probably a typical busy night on Ventura Blvd.  People grabbing a late meal on restaurant sidewalk patios, or enjoying a night out drinking with friends.  Thirty-eight year old father of five, Raul Lopez was the chef on duty at Hoagies & Wings that night.  He was shot in the chest right outside the restaurant after a group of African-American men complained about the slow food service and started causing a disruption in the restaurant.  After the shooting, the five men fled the scene in a black Cadillac Escalade.

While waiting for our order, Mr. Sprocket started to ask the woman questions, which she freely answered.  When I realized that they had witnessed the event, I pulled a pen out of my handbag and started taking notes on pages of the LA WEEKLY that I was reading. I explained to the couple that I have a blog and that I recently covered the Stephanie Lazarus trial.  I also told them that I know the detectives investigating the crime ("the cowboys") and I'm certain they will do all they can to solve the case. To maintain the couple's anonymity, I'll call them Jess and Denise, not their real names.

While Mamani's clientele usually consists of older whites and Persians, the customers that frequent Hoagies & Wings are a much younger, active crowd.  Five African-American men entered the restaurant sometime before 11:00 PM.  They were tall, well over six feet.  Newspaper reports and the individuals I spoke to said they had large builds and looked like football players.  Several of them with their hair in dreadlocks, had gold teeth, and were wearing gold chains around their necks and flashing diamonds.  Denise relayed to me the exchange that happened between the young cashier and the individual who paid for the order.  He pulled out a large wad of hundred-dollar bills.  The young cashier, seeing such a large amount of cash, jokingly asked something to the effect of, "“You’re so rich, what do you do for a living?”  The man allegedly responds, “I sell shit for a living.”

After placing their order, they sit down inside the restaurant to wait.  I don't know how long it was that they were waiting before they start to complain about the slow service, and how long it was taking to get their order.  Hoagies & Wings has an open kitchen with a tall counter separating it from the tables.  Denise tells me that one of the men "went up to the counter, reached over and started messing with the food".  Lopez told them to stop.  At some point, one individual in the group started to throw chairs inside the restaurant.  Newspaper reports indicate the group started to hurl racial slurs at the employees and the situation quickly deteriorated.  Other customers were leaving to remove themselves from the situation.

My understanding is, Raul picked up a chair, pointed it at the men and successfully forced the unruly group out of the restaurant.  Raul then sets the chair down. Right outside the restaurant doors, one of the individuals pulled out a gun and shot Raul in the chest.  Denise was sitting on Mamani's patio, playing a game of backgammon and witnessed the shooting.  She told me she was so startled she could not describe what the man looked like.  Detectives have conflicting reports as to which individual may have been the actual shooter and are not identifying anyone at the present time; all five individuals are listed as "persons of interest."  Some witnesses have said it was the man wearing a yellow polo type shirt, others said is was the one wearing a black Ferrari type jacket with a red stripe.  Four teens who were sitting on the Hoagies & Wings sidewalk patio immediately jumped the low fencing and fled the scene. Mamani's patio customers rushed back inside Mamani's and hid behind the counters.

Jess happened to be inside Mamani's when he heard the commotion start next door.  He rushed outside and was on the sidewalk just before Hoagies & Wings when he saw Raul fall to the ground.  He rushed to his aid.  According to Denise, Jess held Raul’s head and put pressure on his chest wound as he lay dying. Jess kept talking to Raul, trying to calm him.  Denise said Raul’s dying words were, “I don’t want to die!  They shot me! They shot me!”  Denise said, "It was 11:08 PM when Raul was shot."

Denise told me that the Hoagies & Wings surveillance cameras were not working and the video that was recently released by LAPD came from the Panda Express restaurant down the street. Two of the individuals had first entered Panda Express around 10:30 PM but were told the restaurant was closed.  Denise also stated that she thinks the shooter was the individual wearing a black jacket.

Denise said that it took twelve to fifteen minutes for an ambulance to arrive.  One would think Lopez would have been transported to Sherman Oaks Hospital, less than a mile away.  But Sherman Oaks is not a trauma center.  Raul was taken over ten miles away to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.  Dr. Lobo pronounced Lopez dead at two minutes after midnight.

KTLA reported:
His wife, Guadalupe Lopez, made a plea in Spanish at a news conference on Tuesday, saying that she has five young children.
"He was a very responsible man," his oldest son, Melesio Lopez, said. "He loved his family... and I just want justice."
LA WEEKLY reported:
One witness in particular (who wishes to stay anonymous so the perps don't come back and shoot him as well) says in an NBC LA video interview that he saw Lopez and the customers "fencing with chairs" before the shooting.
Police now believe the Hoagies and Wings employee was trying to shoo them from the restaurant.
Another witness turned out to be pretty high-profile. Alex Mandell, L.A. actor and son of Howie Mandell, Tweeted from the scene:

News reports indicate Raul leaves behind a wife and five children, four of them aged six and under.

Raul Lopez, undated.

Detective James Nuttall described Lopez as the sole provider for his family.  He was a well-liked, hard worker who had been employed at Hoagies & Wings for about two years.  He was considered a good employee who took the bus to work.  He was not the individual in charge of the restaurant that night, but was an older, more senior figure in the restaurant. Raul's wife, Guadalupe Gomez-Lopez did not work, which leaves the family in a precarious financial situation.  Hoagies & Wings CEO Akida Mashaka made a statement that a memorial fund is being set up for his family and that donation boxes have been established at the Sherman Oaks and La Cienega locations.  

Nuttall stated it is unknown why Raul took it upon himself to escort the disruptive group out of the restaurant to deescalate the situation when other patrons got up to leave.  Lopez's take charge decision ultimately ended his life.  

Van Nuys Homicide Unit is investigating the case and can use your help.  If you have any information, please contact the detectives at (818) 374-9500. Press Release
Daily News Report
ABC Report


Utah Chris said...

Get them quickly. They are accustomed to violence. This was too casual. Get them boys!

Anonymous said...

This is more detailed information than I've read anywhere else, Sprocket! Thanks for the excellent reporting!