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Date of Issue: April 23, 2008

Coquina Beach shooter to serve 9 more years

For more than a year, Rene Vasquez-Mendoza has remained in the Manatee County jail awaiting trial on felony charges for a shooting on Coquina Beach last Easter.

On April 18, with a trial date set for the end of the month, Vasquez-Mendoza, 23, pleaded no contestin the shooting of three men.

His plea was made at the Manatee County Courthouse in Bradenton before Circuit Court Judge Debra Johnes Riva, who accepted the negotiated plea agreement that will result in Vasquez-Mendoza serving another nine years in prison.

Vasquez-Mendoza was charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder, carrying a concealed firearm, improper exhibition of a firearm and discharge of a firearm in public.

The firearm-related counts were dropped in the agreement to avoid the mandatory sentence of 25 years for weapons convictions. The agreement called for Vasquez-Mendoza to serve concurrent sentences of 124.3 months - 10 years and four months - on multiple charges.

Standing before the judge in his jail uniform - similar to blue medical scrubs - Vasquez-Mendoza responded to a series of questions Riva must ask: Are you under the influence of any substance? Do you understand you are waiving your right to a jury trial? Do you understand that the sentencing guidelines?

Vasquez-Mendoza, in a voice barely audible to the audience, answered, “Yes, ma’am” to each.

The judge also asked assistant state attorney Jeff Quisenberryabout the prosecution’s interest in making the plea agreement. Quisenberry said witnesses have been hard to locate since the incident more than a year ago, including the three victims.

A second man Santiago Delgado Jr., previously was arrested in the incident. He pleaded no contest to several charges in connection with the shooting. He was not sentenced to jail and had been expected to testify at Vasquez-Mendoza’s trial.

Authorities said the April 8, 2007, shootings were gang-related - with Vasquez-Mendoza and Delgado associated with the Norte 14 street gang and the victims, three brothers, associated with Sur 13.

The day before Vasquez-Mendozaappeared at the courthouse, the Bradenton Beach City Commission authorized Police Chief Sam Speciale to enter an agreement and enroll the city’s police department in the Tampa Bay Multi-Agency Task Force.

“Being part of this task force, we can make requests directly” for assistance, said Bradenton Beach Police Lt. John Cosby.

Previously, the city department made its request for additional support from the task force through the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office or the Bradenton Police Department.

The task force provided assistance in keeping the peace at Coquina Beach on Easter Sunday this year.

Commissioners discussed the agreement briefly.

Cosby was asked whether the task force would be called upon to assist with the upcoming Cinco de Mayo holiday.

“We really don’t have that much problem with that [day] unless it falls on a weekend,” Cosby answered. “That’s traditionally not a day off.”