Two of the suspects in Tuesday's drive-by shooting in Central Point had run-ins with police before in Tulare County, Calif.
Miguel A. Carbajal, 19, and Francisco J. Campos, 19, both of Traver, Calif., have ties with a Norteños gang of about 20 to 30 members called Traver Barrio Rifa, which roughly translates to "Traver neighborhood rules."
Lt. Alanis Ramon, of the gang violence unit of the Tulare County Sheriff's Department, said Carbajal was arrested last year for having a concealed weapon — brass knuckles — and Campos was arrested that same year for assault and battery.
Jackson County sheriff's investigators have been piecing together a string of events surrounding the drive-by shooting of a Gold Hill man and his girlfriend at around 4 a.m. Tuesday at the corner of Beall Lane and Circle Wood Drive. They believe the victims were innocent bystanders with no gang ties and have yet to determine a motive behind the crime.
Ramon said in his experience, a drive-by shooting usually is the result of settling a grudge based on a code of honor known as "blood in and blood out." Only rarely is a drive-by done as some kind of initiation.
"If somebody feels disrespected, it could trigger some kind of violence," he said. "It's happened before as some kind of initiation right, but we normally don't get that."
An Isuzu Rodeo was traveling westbound on Beall when a Chevy Impala pulled alongside traveling in the same direction. Several shots were fired from the Impala, which then sped away from the scene, investigators determined.
The driver of the Isuzu, Erik Dorey, 22, of Gold Hill, was shot in the jaw and was listed in serious condition Tuesday at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. His passenger, Jennifer A. Knutson, 19, of Central Point, received minor injuries.
Investigators determined Carbajal was the driver of the Impala, which ran off Old Stage Road about 15 minutes after the shooting during a high-speed pursuit. One of the passengers, Gustavo Santiago, 16, of Central Point, died at the scene. A small memorial of flowers was placed at the site for Santiago, whom investigators say was associated with the Norteños.
According to Jackson County juvenile records, Santiago had one previous run-in with the law, when he was arrested for unlawful possession of cocaine and marijuana and was given probation in August.
The other passengers in the Impala were Campos and Gabriel Perez, 20, of Medford, who has been identified as a known Norteño gang member and who managed to escape from the crash scene and is still at large.
Ramon said gang activity started in the California prison system, ruled by high-powered gang leaders. Now those gangs are starting to spread across the country, he said.
A drive-by shooting often occurs when a rival gang tries to invade an area.
In Traver, it's generally considered Norteños territory, but recently the Sureños have been migrating up from the Los Angeles area, creating more friction, Ramon said.
"There are drive-by shootings trying to pressure them out of the community," he said. "Our biggest concern is the Norteños and Sureños."
Ramon said it's possible that Carbajal and Campos are related to family members who migrate up and down the West Coast in search of farm jobs.
Ramon said he grew up in Traver when there were no problems with gangs.
Medford Police Chief Tim George said 218 people in Medford have been identified as gang members or associates using criteria established by the Oregon Department of Justice.
The Sureños are the largest gang locally, with 124 members, followed by the Norteños with 47 members.
"We know the people by their nickname, the way they walk and their actions," he said.
George said local police are actively involved in grade schools to teach kids how to resist gangs. Police are involved in other intelligence activity to keep track of gang activity, George said.
Locally, the migrant workers who come to the Medford area don't appear to be bringing gang activity, he said.
George said there isn't an overwhelming gang culture here, noting that gang activity ebbs and flows.
Heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine are the three main drugs trafficked by gangs, George said.
"Drugs are the fuel that makes the gang engine run," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail email@example.com.