Fatal drive-by shooting plea hearing postponed

Fernando Mateo Lopez, 20, from Gilroy, at a previous hearing for

A plea hearing for the five suspects accused of the Nov. 4, 2011 murder of Tara Romero was rescheduled Thursday.

Esmeling Bahena, 18 of Morgan Hill; Ricardo Diaz, 19 of Morgan Hill; Fernando Mateo Lopez, 20 of Gilroy; Primitivo Hernandez, 23 of San Jose; and Ramon Gutierrez, 17 of Morgan Hill are next scheduled to appear March 29 in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose for a plea hearing, according to district attorney’s office spokesperson Lisa McCrary. 

The five suspects are charged with murder and attempted murder, with enhancements for being associated with and illegal street gang.

They are accused of carrying out the Nov. 4, 2011 drive-by shooting at the corner of Cosmo and Del Monte avenues. Police said the suspects drove by the corner, which sits just outside the Village Avante apartment complex, in a Chrysler. They opened fire on a group of teenagers standing near the sidewalk and sped away.

Tara Romero, 14, was fatally shot and pronounced dead at the scene when paramedics arrived. Also shot were Rosa Castaneda, 14; Alicia Sotelo, 14 and Chris Loredo, 16.

All four victims were Sobrato High School students.

Police said the shooting was gang-related, though the victims were not associated with any gang activity. The suspected shooters were affiliated with the Sureño street gang, and mistakenly targeted the group of victims who were waiting for a ride home from a birthday party when the suspects attacked.

Police arrested the suspects shortly after the incident, when an officer on patrol saw their vehicle speed through a stop sign on Spring Avenue. He followed the car to a residence on Barnell Avenue and called for back-up. Officers and the regional SWAT team surrounded the home and were able to arrest the suspects. 

Found at the home were a loaded .22-caliber revolver and a loaded SKS assault rifle, police said.

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