By Thomas K. Pendergast
Sometime during the last few years, Jason De La Cruz, Derek Butch, Brandon Lee Evans, Robert Mathis, Xiao “Ben” Luo and Hung Pham all became murder victims in either the Sunset District or Golden Gate Park.
Yet, they have something else in common: Homicide inspectors have not found a killer for any of them.
Since 2005, there have been at least 11 homicides in the district or park, resulting in arrests in five of those cases.
On the evening of March 29, 2008, Jason De La Cruz, 31, of Daly City, was a manager at a Verizon Wireless store at the Westlake Shopping Center. That night he was celebrating a month of good sales with his crew outside Irving Pizza, located near the intersection of 19th Avenue and Irving Street, along with a few employees, including 23-year-old Derek Butch.
De La Cruz was buying pizzas for “team J.D.,” witnesses recalled, when an unknown customer demanded a free pizza for himself as well. According to a report in the SF Chronicle, an argument ensued but seemed to cool off after the unknown customer’s friend told De La Cruz his friend was drunk and to ignore him.
Yet, moments later a man believed to be associated with the drunk man and his friend got out of a parked car and shot De La Cruz and Butch, killing them both.
Charges were later filed but then dropped against two people in the crowd that night because of conflicting witness testimony, according to media reports.
Police say they are now seeking Eric Siu, 22, of San Francisco as a “person of interest” in the double-homicide, after a cashier at the pizza parlor identified him as the shooter in a photo lineup.
Siu reportedly disappeared the morning of the shooting and has not been seen since.
Hung Pham, 46, of Daly City, was found dead late in the evening of Oct. 13, 2008, at the intersection of 17th Avenue and Noriega Street. Police say they found Pham’s body in the driver’s seat of a black Mercedes SUV with numerous gunshot wounds. He appeared to have been shot through the car window and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Brandon Lee Evans was 20 years old and had moved to the City from San Diego only three weeks before he was shot to death in Golden Gate Park, near the horseshoe pits, on Nov. 29, 2008.
Friends he was with that night said Evans left them at the horseshoe pits about 10:30 p.m. to get his cell phone from his car, but he never made it back.
Moments after he left, they heard shots.
Media reports say police found no weapon and there were no eyewitnesses but numerous bullet casings were found near a footpath close by.
A black sweatshirt he was wearing was missing, his car was unlocked, and his wallet was inside, untouched. So far, there is no evidence that a fight, a gang connection or drug sales were involved.
There are also no suspects at this time.
The body of Robert Mathis, 31, of San Francisco was found on June 17, 2009. He had been stabbed to death in the parking lot of Kezar Stadium, located just yards away from the Park Police Station. There have been no arrests in the case.
On Jan. 27, 2010, Xiao “Ben” Xiong Luo, 44, was gunned down in his home at 2432 Moraga St. just before 6 p.m. Luo was shot once in the chest during what police believe was a home-invasion robbery.
Nine people in the house were found tied up, with only Luo being killed.
Security cameras mounted outside the house show two men entering the place. Surviving witnesses inside the house described the two men as being “Latino,” although images from the security camera makes it difficult to be certain of their race.
The SFPD has confirmed that all of the aforementioned killings are open homicide cases actively being investigated, that no arrests have been made and because of that they will not release further information about any of them.
Police have made arrests, however, in five cases, at least two of which resulted in convictions.
On March 1, 2005, Christine Chan, 22, of Daly City was shot to death “execution style” during what appeared to be a marijuana sale but was in reality a set-up for a robbery.
Her boyfriend, George Tang, 22 at the time, of Daly City was seriously wounded.
According to media reports of court testimony, Tang intended to sell two pounds of marijuana to Chad Dias, 23, of San Francisco, at the intersection of 18th Avenue and Ortega Street.
Dias, however, intended to rob Tang of the marijuana so he pulled out a gun.
A jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, after testimony that he killed Chan because she was a witness.
On Dec. 12, 2008, Dias was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison.
In November 2005, Taff Michel, 27, was shot to death while trying to warn someone else about an armed robber. Witnesses said two men, one with a pistol, approached a woman from behind who was walking along Kezar Drive in Golden Gate Park. They turned out to be brothers from Redmond, Washington, and they were found by police officers later that evening hiding in the bushes of Golden Gate Park.
The triggerman, Travis Tackett, 22 at the time, eventually pled guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in state prison. His brother, William Tackett, then 24, got a two-year sentence.
On April 28, 2008, Anton Bajjalieh, 53 at the time, was arrested for stabbing his 48-year-old brother Isam Bajjalieh to death during an argument in a house on the 1600 block of 26th Avenue.
Bajjalieh has pled not guilty and is awaiting trial.
On Feb. 17, 2010, Cuong Lu, 35, of San Francisco was shot to death outside the Pho Huynh Hiep 2 noodle restaurant on Irving Street, between 19th and 20th avenues.
Witnesses said Lu got into an argument with Bao Luu, 39 at the time, while inside the restaurant. Eventually, the argument spilled outside.
Two SFPD patrol officers coming up the street happened to witness the slaying and allegedly saw Luu holding a semi-automatic handgun. He was disarmed and placed under arrest.
Luu has pled not guilty and is awaiting trial.
On Independence Day, July 4, 2010, Adam Noyes, 25, of Vermont, was stabbed to death in Golden Gate Park. Police say the suspect, Richard Ray, 65, of San Francisco flagged officers down near the Conservatory of Flowers at about 9:40 p.m. and told them about stabbing Noyes. Ray claimed he stabbed Noyes in self-defense. Media reports say a knife was found on Noyes’ body but he also had defensive wounds, as did Ray. Ray has pled not guilty and is awaiting trial.