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Date of Issue: April 19, 2007

Investigation continues in Coquina Beach shootings

The scene of three-helicoptor Bayflite Air Medical Transport rescue for three-men shot on Easter Sunday at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. All three victims survived the shooting. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy
Vasquez Mendoza

"Our ‘dirty little secret' is that you don't go to Manatee County's beaches on holiday weekends. The county needs to wake up."

That comment from Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie comes in the wake of the violence that erupted on Easter Sunday, where three people were shot and two arrested in what police describe as a gang-related incident at Coquina Beach.

The victims, all brothers from Arcadia, are Jose Estrada, 20, Salvador Estrada, 27, and a 17-year-old identified by Bradenton Beach police as F.E.

Arrested were Rene Vasquez-Mendoza, 22, and Santiago Delagado Jr., both of Plant City.

Vasquez-Mendoza is 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.

Delagado is charged with carrying a concealed firearm, improper exhibition of a firearm and discharge of a firearm in public.

Both are still in jail.

Lenard Diaz, detective sergeant with the Bradenton Beach Police Department, said that the investigation is on-going, with discussions with witnesses being the focus of the moment.

Diaz said that F.E. had been released from the hospital after receiving three gunshot wounds to the stomach. Salvador Estrada, who was shot twice in the left part of his chest, and Jose Estrada, who was shot in the center of his chest, were still hospitalized as of Monday.

About 40 law enforcement officers were at Coquina Beach when the six or seven gunshots were fired at 4:22 p.m. April 8.

Diaz said the officers were on the beach, with a visible presence, because of a history of gang activity at Coquina on Easter and a suspicion that there might be retaliation for a gang-related killing in March.

Manatee County officials have called for "drastic action" to deal with avoiding incidents at the popular beach. Manatee County Parks and Recreation's Mike Sosadeeter has formulated a re-configuration of the parking area in the mile-long Coquina Beach, and said last week that he expected the plan "will get pushed forward because of last weekend."

That plan calls for limiting ingress and egress to the beach and blocking the north-south drive lane, as well as adding landscaping.

Diaz said any such change would be a help. "I think it will help stop the moving music and stop the percentage of drive-by shootings," he said.

County commissioners are expected to address the beach issues in a meeting April 24.

Coquina Beach has had a history of problems with violence and gang-related activity going back decades.

Former Bradenton Beach Mayor Gail Cole instituted a program of "beer patrols" in 1995, where officers would check coolers for alcoholic beverages, which are prohibited from Manatee County shores.

"It worked," Cole said.

"And it's a shame it happened," he added, regarding the Easter shooting. He and Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale worked on a similar plan for beach re-design to vehicular traffic while he was mayor, Cole said, but nothing evolved from the effort.

"How can gangs break up families and church groups on holidays that use our beaches?" Cole asked. "We need to block the beach so there is only one entrance or exit. Nobody will try to shoot people if they can't get away afterward."

"The main reason people come here is because it's free," Bradenton Beach Police Chief Speciale said of Coquina Beach. "If this new parking plan doesn't work, the county is going to have to consider paid parking."