July 14, 2009 in City

Grant County battles spike in gang violence

Yakima Herald-Republic

The shooting death of a 17-year-old boy in Desert Aire this weekend is the latest example of gang violence that has taken place across Grant County this year, sheriff’s officials said.

The boy’s death brings to five the number of homicides reported since January, including three that are believed to be gang-related, Undersheriff John Turley said.

The sheriff’s office would typically investigate one or two homicides a year, Turley said, adding that the spike in gang violence is the worst he has seen in more than a decade with the department.

“It’s raised to a different level now than it used to be,” Turley said.

Saturday’s shooting happened during a gang fight about 1:45 a.m. in Desert Aire, a small community south of Mattawa along the Columbia River.

The teenager, whose name was not released pending an autopsy set for today, was shot in the head. His body was apparently dropped in the street near a Mattawa laundry, where he was found by a Mattawa police officer.

About the same time, authorities learned of a rollover crash on State Route 243 about a half-mile north of the turnoff to Mattawa.

Investigators plan to search that car to see whether it contains the gun used in the shooting. Two other vehicles were also seized.

Two other people – believed to be one adult and one juvenile – were hurt during the fight and subsequent events. One had a head injury; the other complained of neck pain from the car crash.

No arrests have been made. Two material witnesses were released after a judge decided they were not a flight risk, Turley said.

A gang-related stabbing and a drive-by shooting that resulted in injury have also been reported recently in the Mattawa area.

Turley said the sheriff’s office is hoping to boost Neighborhood Watch programs across Grant County and provide resources for the community with a grant through the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

The year-long grant will fund two support specialists who will be hired to help residents learn more about gang prevention and feel empowered in their own neighborhoods.

Gang members are becoming more violent and focused on acquiring firearms, Turley said.

“It’s hard to predict where violence is ever going to occur with those guys, and we can’t afford to put a police officer on every street corner,” he said.

Anyone with information about Saturday’s incidents should call the sheriff’s office at (509) 754-2011, ext. 468.

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