Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sunset, GG Park Haunted by Rash of Unsolved Murders

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.

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Knitters Know about Social Networking

By Judith Kahn

Any Tuesday, walk into the Inner Sunset’s Tart to Tart, located at 641 Irving St., at 7 p.m. and you will see knitters happily chatting away while knitting a scarf, stocking or shawl.
This group is called Purl Jam, and it started about five years ago with two women. It has since expanded to 12 regulars, with occasionally as many as 20 members. Purl Jam is linked to a national knitting group (website: http://www.ravelry.com). Not exclusively for women, men are welcome to join the group and some have.
From time to time, Purl Jam hosts fun workshops where members teach one another specific skills, such as dying yarn or felting. In fact, one member individualized a pattern and the group tested it to see how it worked. The woman then perfected the pattern and sold it online through the national site.
Erica Schultz is a founder of Purl Jam. She came to San Francisco from Washington D.C. in 2005 and began knitting with a friend. From there, the group grew. Schultz describes it as a fun group of knitters and crocheters from all walks of life, ranging mostly in the 20 – 40 age range. With one exception, all members live in San Francisco.
“We chat and catch up with each other’s lives and support people in the group when they run into an unexpected crisis or problem that occurs in their daily lives,” Schultz said.
Purl Jam offers newcomers to the area an opportunity to learn more about the events inside and outside of their neighborhood and a chance to meet new people.
“It is a great place to network,” says Schultz.
Another member, Janice Tauscher, adds: “We don’t only share a love of knitting, but other diverse interests too, like food, the great outdoors, architecture, photography and more. We have fun not just at knit night, but doing other group activities and charity knitting. I like the fact there are skilled knitters in the group; that I am constantly challenged to improve my skills and explore other types of knitting. I love Tuesday night. I can bring in projects for advice and admiration.”
Purl Jam gives back to the community by donating knitted scarves to the St. Anthony Holiday Drive, knitting bears for the Mother Bear Project, collecting knitted garments, such as hats and scarves, for local teen shelters through an organization called Compassion Knit, and collecting yarn for afghans. (For more information about donating yarn, go to the website at afghansforafgahans.org.)
The group gave hand-knitted hats to Tart to Tart employees as a thank you for letting them use the shop.
One of the biggest events of the year for the group is the Bay Area Ravelry Meet–up. In this event, the Ravelry community meets at the Women’s Building in the Mission District and spends the afternoon knitting, crocheting and demonstrating their skills.
To learn more about Purl Jam, contact Schultz at erica.schultz@yahoo.com or go to the blog at http://purljamsf.com or the website at http://purljamsf.com.

 

Critics Not Happy About Lake Merced Plan

By Thomas K. Pendergast

A proposed Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department drew fire from critics recently when it went public. The document caused some local community organizers to call it more of the same reason why Lake Merced has deteriorated so much over the years.
Docks are rotting below the water line of the 272-acre freshwater lake and fish stocks are low; the old boathouse is falling apart and there has not been a bait and tackle supply store there in years.
The five-page draft MOU gives overall management of the area to the PUC, with the specific task of maintaining water quality. Managing recreation activities, gardening and maintaining the building facilities, including dealing with concession leases, will continue to be done by Rec. and Park, with some money for those tasks coming from the PUC.
When Steven R. Ritchie of the PUC presented the draft MOU to an audience of about 40 people in the clubhouse at the Harding Park Golf Course on July 19, he addressed concerns that budget cuts to Rec. and Park would leave them without enough money to properly staff Lake Merced or ensure good maintenance, causing its deterioration to continue.
“The responsibility of the PUC is to make sure that the lake is managed properly and manages it,” said Ritchie. “Does that mean managing all of the individual pieces for recreational purposes? Not necessarily. I think that’s something we need to count on Rec. and Park to do, but we need to hold them accountable for the management of those. I think that is something that we are continuing to do much more of than we’ve ever done before.”
Dick Morten, a local citizen, questioned Ritchie on whether Rec. and Park had the resources to fix up the lake and keep up with maintenance.
“I don’t see them, with their budget constraints, with all the operational problems that they have, being able to devote any resources,” said Morten. “I just don’t have the confidence in them.”
Jerry Cadagan, a member of the Committee to Save Lake Merced, emphasized the issue of accountability and expressed doubt about the draft MOUs approach to holding the department responsible.
“We want accountability and what this MOU describes is status quo,” said Cadagan. “When people have a question about ‘why isn’t there a fishing concession?’ or ‘why is somebody pushing nutrients into the lake?’ who do you ask? Who do you talk to? We want a single point of accountability.”
After the meeting, Ritchie gave specifics on how the PUC will enforce accountability for Rec. and Park.
“Our Natural Resources and Land Management Division, they’re the folks who manage our watersheds outside of San Francisco and they’ll get responsibility here,” he said. “They’re used to that characteristic of having to enforce rules and regulations for land use. They would hold Rec. and Park accountable if they’re not holding up their end of the bargain.”
One of the more expensive problems is the dilapidated state of the boathouse. Some in the audience thought it was too far gone to save and it would be better to tear it down and build a new one. Ritchie, however, said the money for that is not there so the plan at this point is for the PUC to fix up the building to the point where it is habitable.
During the meeting, Ritchie confirmed that it would take between $2 million and $3 million to completely renovate the building and bring a restaurant into the boathouse.
“We don’t have that much money available,” he said. “We’re bringing it up to a blank slate with operable bathrooms and something that then is presentable so that you can actually look at for further fix-up to make it truly useful.”
Ritchie said the PUC has about $1.1 million set aside for making the boathouse operable.
A representative of Rec. and Park said the activities that will be offered are essentially the same as now, including rowing, kayaking, sailing and fishing.
Morten asked who is going to manage all these activities?
Lev Kushner, Rec. and Park’s assistant director of strategic partnerships, said the Rec. and Park Department is going to run waterfront recreational activities.
“With who?” Morten responded. “Where are you going to get the staff when you can’t keep open existing facilities?”
“That’s what you’re hearing me say – we have staff,” Kushner explained. “We have a new waterfront recreational director.”
Connie Chan, director of public affairs for Rec. and Park, elaborated on the department’s staffing at Lake Merced.
“We currently have three people coordinating Rec and Park’s waterfront recreational activities citywide,” she said. “Our fall programming will include activities at Lake Merced and the rest of the City. Recreation staff will be assigned at Lake Merced to provide water sports programming during specific time slots. Under our new recreation model, our recreation staffs are assigned to many locations based on their recreational expertise.”
Suzanne Gautier, a spokesperson for the PUC, confirmed that under the draft MOU, her agency continues to provide about $300,000 annually to Rec. and Park for operating and maintaining restrooms, paths, benches, picnic areas, security structures and providing trash collection and custodial services.
“There’s a lot of frustration that people would like to see improvements take place and they haven’t happened nearly as fast as anyone would like,” Ritchie said after the meeting.