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Date of Issue: April 26, 2007

Investigation continues in beach shootings

The state attorney's office continues to interview witnesses in the Easter Sunday shooting at Coquina Beach.

The incident, which occurred with more than 40 law enforcement personnel policing the beach, sent three brothers to the hospital with gunshot wounds to the chest and propelled local officials to resume debate on how best to secure the Manatee County property.

Authorities arrested two people in the April 8 shooting - Santiago Delgado Jr., 21, and Renee Vasquez-Mendoza, 22, both of Plant City. They are allegedly involved in the Norte 14 street gang. A Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office deputy has described Vasquez-Mendoza as a certified member of the gang.

Delgado, who is represented by public defender Phillip Paine, faces charges of carrying a concealed firearm, improper exhibition of a firearm and discharging a firearm.

He is scheduled for an arraignment hearing on May 18.

Vasquez-Mendoza, represented by public defender Matthew Gish, faces the following charges: three counts of attempted first degree murder, carrying a concealed firearm, improper exhibition of a firearm and discharge of a firearm in public.

He is scheduled for an arraignment hearing on May 18 before Judge Janette Dunnigan.

Assistant state attorney Jeff Quisenberry said his office is interviewing witnesses, including law enforcement officers and people who were on the crowded beach that day - authorities estimate that there were some 3,000 gang members among 19,000 people on the beach for the holiday.

Quisenberry also is reviewing the physical evidence in the case.

The victims were brothers from Arcadia - Jose Estrada, 20, Salvador Estrada, 27, and a 17-year-old identified by Bradenton Beach police as F.E. They were taken by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

Police documents filed at the Manatee County Courthouse in connection with Delgado's arrest state that "during a taped interview, the defendant admitted to carrying a concealed firearm (revolver), then discharging the firearm in a public place with several families around."

Delgado, according to the documents, said he shot the gun into the ground to "scare the other rival gang away." The Estrada brothers are believed to be connected to the Sur 13 street gang.

Delgado allegedly had been carrying the gun in his front pocket. After the shooting, as law enforcement officers surrounded the area, Delgado allegedly threw the gun, which was recovered.

"The defendant was in the presence of more than one person and did exhibit in a rude angry threatening manner. Not in self-defense," the report also stated.

The shooting and the arrest occurred in a matter of minutes. An account from the Bradenton Beach Police Department said the shooting took place at 4:22 p.m. and Delgado's arrest at 4:29 p.m.

The police report on Vasquez-Mendoza's arrest alleges that the defendant approached the three brothers with a semi-automatic gun hidden in a red shirt and that "words were exchanged by all parties."

"The defendant shot all three men several times," the report stated. "The defendant was positively identified by several witnesses that gave taped statements in Spanish."

A semi-automatic weapon that authorities believe Vasquez-Mendoza used was recovered.

Vasquez-Mendoza, whose bail was set at $1.5 million and who remains in the Manatee County jail, has denied involvement in the shooting.

The Plant City man also was arrested in a Hillsborough County shooting that took place in January.

In that incident, authorities say Vasquez-Mendoza shot at a 28-year-old man but missed, hitting the victim's car, which then crashed.

The victim allegedly identified Vasquez-Mendoza as the shooter.

The incident on Coquina Beach put law enforcement officials throughout the Tampa Bay area on alert.

It also was the catalyst for Island and Manatee County officials to resume a conversation about curbing criminal activity at the beach.

Meanwhile, on a recent weekday afternoon, a dozen people bathed in the sun on the beach, approximately where the shootings took place.

The majority were vacationers unaware of the incident.

"Geez, you just don't expect that in such an idyllic place," said Joe Ramone of Philadelphia. "If you said there had been a shark attack, I'd be less shocked."

But Travis Brooks of Ames, Iowa, was not surprised.

"No place is safe," Brooks said. "There's the killings at Virginia Tech. Gang fights on the beach. Crystal meth factories on the family farm. You tell me where it's safe and I'll tell you you're living in fantasy land."