The year 2003 had a truly awful beginning. Carol Waites and her close friend Sharen Burton attended a New Year's Eve service at True Faith Missionary Baptist Church, and on the way home they stopped at Dr. J's Liquor in Lincoln Park.
As they stood in the parking lot in the midst of a small crowd of people, a car pulled up and occupants got out and fired into the group, killing Waites, 45, and Burton, 32, and critically wounding Waites' 7-year-old nephew, Ozvie Harris.
The killings marked the start of a year heavy in gun violence that marred life in southeast San Diego neighborhoods.
Gang violence was so bad this year that when new San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne spoke to a group of black leaders at a meeting of the Catfish Club, he said fighting gang crime will be his top priority.
A San Diego Union-Tribune report said Waites had been a nurse at the Villa Rancho Bernardo nursing home before foot surgery forced her to quit. She was heavily active at True Faith Church and left behind two children, four grandchildren, two sisters and seven brothers.
Her friend, Burton, a native of Belize, was a Temecula resident and worked as a nursing assistant. The U-T report said she often came to San Diego to help Waites, who was unable to drive, get around town.
Their deaths led to the creation of an activist group called 100 Black Men United, which raised money as a reward to give anyone with information leading to Burton and Waites' killers. The group met on Saturdays to discuss ways to help the police fight gang violence.
The senseless murders “struck a chord that ran through everybody,” Rickey Laster, a Baptist Church pastor and co-organizer of 100 Black Men United, told CityBeat back in January. “It could have been my mother, it could have been your mother-it could have been anybody's mother.”
Added group member Abdur-Rahim Hameed, “I've got a mother, I've got daughters, I've got sons, and I'll be damned if I allow them to live in a community where they feel unsafe.”
Living in squalor
San Diego Police Detective Craig Isbell's narrative of what he found Feb. 18 at a Logan Heights home is revolting. In a poorly constructed makeshift garage surrounded by massive amounts of trash and junk, Alejandro Mejia and Rosa Valenzuela had locked their two children, ages 4 and 2, naked in an unheated room with no light, boarded-up broken windows and a bunk bed with a single dirty mattress. The youngest Mejia child told Isbell that she and her brother urinated on the mattress when their parents refused to let them out to use the bathroom-not that using the bathroom would have made much of a difference; it had neither a working toilet nor hot water. A bucket of urine and feces seemed to serve the children's drug addicted parents just fine.
There were cockroaches throughout the kitchen, rotting food in the refrigerator and a strong smell of natural gas. In the parents' room Isbell found cocaine and meth. The parents later blamed each other, both claiming they were forced to lock the children in the room to keep them from the other parent's drug habit.
Isbell later told CityBeat that on the walls of their room, the children had drawn pictures of smiling people. The oldest child spoke only gibberish. Isbell said that never in his career had he seen such an extreme case of child neglect.
Valenzuela, it ends up, has four other children she had left in Mexico and, at the time of her arrest, was pregnant with a seventh. Judge William Mudd (of David Westerfield fame) handed her a year in prison in August along with a lecture that verged dangerously on racism. His anger, he said, was justified. “Before somebody second-guesses my comments, they should be forced to look at the videotape of what these kids lived like, what they looked like, what they smelled like, what you put them in, to understand the rage that I feel on behalf of this community.”
Valenzuela will be out by March, her husband the following year. Lack of prior offenses was the reason for the light sentences. At last report, the children were living with a foster family and doing well despite signs of emotional distress.
Scarred for life
It doesn't get much worse than the moment in court on July 18, when 18-year-old Michael Hanson referred across the room to the two men who accidentally-yet recklessly-killed his brother and his brother's girlfriend.
Hanson needed an interpreter to help him communicate to a jammed courtroom that the two men, George Waller Jr. and Lawrence Calhoun, deserve to die for what they did.
The young man had been in the Geo Storm with his brother, Brian Hanson, and Shanna Jump, both 19 years old, when Waller's 1968 Plymouth Barracuda plowed into them at high speed, killing Brian and Shanna and leaving Michael in a wheelchair with brain damage so severe that he is unable to walk or speak clearly.
Waller and Calhoun had been street racing illegally in Encanto when the collision occurred. Such racing made numerous headlines this year as San Diego and other San Diego County cities cracked down on the sometimes-deadly activity with new ordinances carrying stiff penalties.
Waller, a 32-year-old janitor and father of two, got six years in prison for his lapse in judgment. Calhoun, a 29-year-old machine-shop employee and father of five, got nine years.
Hanson is not expected to be able to care for himself.
Father and son
Perhaps the most tormented soul of 2003 was Ocean Beach resident Bill Hoffine, who on Sept. 4 felt compelled to murder his 14-year-old son, Evan Nash, and then terminate his own life about 10 anguished hours later.
Hoffine, who had long been gripped in a child-custody battle and reportedly had been ordered a week earlier to steer clear of his son and his son's mom, went to a Mexican restaurant in Ocean Beach that he had gone to often and asked proprietor Tommy Ramirez if Evan had yet jogged by with his high school cross-country team. Ramirez said no.
But moments after Ramirez handed Hoffine an enchilada, Evan and his team ran by, and Hoffine took off in a hurry. He found a place to hide behind a parked van on Voltaire Street, emerged as the running team approached and fired numerous bullets into his son's body. Witnesses say he then reloaded and fired more bullets into his motionless son.
Hoffine fled to the home of a former neighbor and holed up there through the afternoon and into the night. There he engaged in a standoff against SWAT officers who, just after midnight, fired a concussion grenade and multiple rounds of tear gas into the home. When nothing happened, officers entered the home and found Hoffine dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.