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Gang War Behind Shootings On West First Two Incidents That Wounded Six People Part Of Fight Over Drug Turf, Police Say

Gang members warring over turf on West First Avenue are to blame for two recent shootings there, Spokane police said Monday.

The shootings, which occurred 48 hours apart and left six people wounded, involved two gangs fighting for control of the intersection’s drug traffic.

“It’s your basic turf dispute,” Sgt. Larry Evans said. “They’re going back and forth with each other out there.”

The most recent assault came at 3 a.m. Sunday, when a man leaned out of a passing car’s window and fired several shots at a crowd of people near The Coach House Restaurant. The weapon was a .45-caliber handgun, police said.

Three women and two men were injured. One victim was arrested for punching the police officer who knelt to help her, Evans said.

“We’re not getting much cooperation from these people,” he said.

Police have not identified the victims because they are afraid of further gang retaliation.

Two suspects were arrested Sunday on Geiger Boulevard, where they were spotted in a car that matched the description of the shooter’s. One of the men was carrying a handgun, which police referred to as “large caliber.”

The men, Robert Esparza, 31, and Travis Lanphier, 25, are being held in the Spokane County Jail for five counts of first-degree assault.

Police said both men are members of a Hispanic gang that originated in California, where they are from. Esparza has no criminal record in Spokane; Lanphier has minor traffic offenses.

Evans said witnesses saw the men spraying gang graffiti on walls along the 1100 block of West First before the shooting Sunday. Esparza’s signature was found sprayed on the nearby Alberta Apartments, he said.

Such markings indicate gangs trying to establish a presence.

The indiscriminate nature of Sunday’s drive-by also is common to California gangs.

“It’s a technique of terror,” police spokesman Dick Cottam said Monday. “We’re seeing more and more it.”

On Friday, a 22-year-old man was found just after 3 a.m. on the sidewalk by the Coach House. He had been shot several times. The man was recovering Monday at a hospital.

No arrests have been made in that shooting.

Police plan to intensify patrols along West First where the gunfire occurred and “let those involved know they’re not regarding it as just gang members shooting other gang members,” Cottam said.

Detectives also plan to review three videotapes taken from cameras mounted on several downtown buildings. The cameras, which business owners and police installed last year, may have captured the drive-by on film.

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Tags: Violence