A friend of a Garden City teen killed in the early morning hours of July 15 in a drive-by shooting testified Thursday that the two men charged in his friend’s death were really coming after him and had threatened him just hours before the shooting.
Mario Esparza-Gonzalez, one of three friends of 17-year-old victim Ramon Enriquez who was in the car with Enriquez when he was shot, testified in Finney County District Court during a preliminary hearing for 20-year-old Andres Chavez of Garden City.
Andres Chavez and his 21-year-old brother, Anthony, each face a first-degree murder charge in connection with the shooting.
A March 2019 trial date has been scheduled for Anthony Chavez, and on Thursday, Finney County District Judge Wendel Wurst ruled there was sufficient evidence to bound Andres Chavez over for arraignment on the murder charge, as well as other charges.
Andres Chavez’s arraignment has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Feb. 19.
At about 1:37 a.m. July 15, sheriff’s investigators responded to a report of a shooting on the U.S. 50 bypass between Third Street and Campus Drive, where it was reported someone from a vehicle had fired shots at another vehicle while traveling east on the bypass.
Enriquez, who witnesses say was in the back seat on the driver’s side of the targeted blue Yukon, was shot and died later at St. Catherine Hospital.
Finney County Sheriff’s investigator Jennifer Rogers testified in November during Anthony Chavez’s preliminary hearing — and again Thursday — that on the day he was arrested, Anthony Chavez led her to a shed just behind his home at 1410 B St. and to a shoebox that contained a 40-caliber handgun, two boxes of ammunition and a magazine. He told her it was the gun he used in the shooting, that he fired it 11 times at the Yukon and that he acted alone, Rogers said.
Rogers, 17-year-old Mario Esparza-Gonzalez and two other occupants of the Yukon that night, Mario's sister, Monica Esparza-Gonzalez, and her boyfriend, Cristo Garcia, were back on the witness stand Thursday repeating much of the same testimony from Anthony Chavez’s hearing.
Mario Esparza-Gonzalez testified that his issues with the Chavez brothers began in May and stemmed from their belief that his sister had stolen an ounce of marijuana from their friend, Austin Hernandez, who Mario Esparza-Gonzalez referred to on Thursday as an “old friend.”
Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said the brothers began making threatening texts and calls to him in May to pressure him to pay Hernandez for the stolen drugs. Mario Esparza-Gonzalez also said that the Chavez brothers accused him of shooting at their B St. home, an incident Anthony Chavez reported to police on May 26. Mario Esparza-Gonzalez testified that he didn’t shoot at the Chavez’s home, and that he told them that in May.
Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said that the Chavez brothers didn’t believe him and wanted him to pay them money for “shooting up the house.” They said “I was dead — my whole family was dead,” Mario Esparza-Gonzalez testified.
Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said he offered to pay both the Chavez brothers and Hernandez. Even though he never paid them, he said, the threats and harassment ceased until July.
Late the evening of July 14, Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said, he received a call from Andres Chavez through Facebook Messenger while hanging out with a friend at the Sunflower Hotel, 1311 E. Fulton St. Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said both Chavez brothers were on speaker, and they threatened to kill him and his family.
Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said he tried to calm the Chavez brothers down and diffuse the situation by telling them “they have children” and “to think about them” before deciding to do something rash. Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said the brothers took that as a threat and asked him for his location.
Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said he then called Monica Esparza-Gonzalez and asked her to pick him up at the hotel.
Monica Esparza-Gonzalez and Garcia repeated their previous testimony, saying they had picked up Enriquez earlier in the evening in the Yukon, and the three of them — with Monica Esparza-Gonzalez driving, Garcia in the front passenger seat and Enriquez in the back driver’s-side seat — picked up Mario Esparza Gonzalez, who got in the back passenger-side seat.
The four eventually drove to Mario Esparza-Gonzalez’s trailer at 2970 N. Anderson Road. When they arrived at the trailer park, Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said, he noticed a white truck, which he recognized as Andres Chavez’s uncle’s work truck. Monica Esparza-Gonzalez testified she saw the logo “Fast Eddie” on the truck — the Chavez brothers’ uncle, Edgar Correa’s, business is Fast Eddie’s Appliance Repair.
Mario Esparza-Gonzalez testified he told his sister it was Andres Chavez’s truck and that she should pull out and leave the trailer park.
The witnesses all testified that they left the trailer park and headed north on Anderson Road toward the bypass, and that the truck followed them closely. Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said he looked back and was able to identify Andres Chavez as the driver of the truck, but was unable to identify the other two people he saw in the vehicle.
They also testified that when they turned east onto the bypass, the truck continued to follow closely, even as their vehicle reached speeds of up to 120 mph.
After the truck failed to pull up beside the Yukon on the two-lane highway, and the highway narrowed to one lane, Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said that’s when occupants of the truck began shooting at the Yukon from behind. He said he saw gun fire coming from both sides of the truck and that he heard five gun shots.
Monica Esparza-Gonzalez and Garcia said they were not able to identify any of the subjects in the truck.
Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said he screamed “Ramon got shot!”
Monica Esparza-Gonzalez said she continued on the bypass to Mary Street, where she exited and headed west before turning on Third Street in an attempt to get Enriquez to St. Catherine Hospital.
Monica Esparza-Gonzalez said she saw a police vehicle on Third Street and stopped and asked for help. According to law enforcement reports, officers and EMS personnel attempted life-saving measures on Enriquez in the 2000 block of North Third Street.
Rogers testified Thursday that investigators recovered five shell casings — four 40-caliber casings and one 9mm casing. Investigators also found a black cap with a North Face logo on it at the scene of the shooting, which Rogers said matched a cap Anthony Chavez was seen wearing in surveillance video at Garden City Liquor, where he told Rogers that he had gone to buy alcohol that night.
Rogers said she observed three bullet holes in the Yukon — in the exhaust pipe, rear hatch on the driver’s side, and the passenger-side rear tire. She said the driver’s-side rear tire also was flat, leading her to believe it also might have been hit by a bullet.
Rogers said investigators seized Andres Chavez’s cell phone and that she was able to find text messages between Andres Chavez and Mario Esparza-Gonzalez. One particular series of texts were sent between May 13 and 17. One text from Andres Chavez to Mario Esparza-Gonzalez said Mario Esparza-Gonzalez was going “to get your whole family killed.” Another text from Andres Chavez said “coming after you and Cristo … ."
A text from Mario Esparza-Gonzalez to Andres Chavez said “Don’t want problems” and “will pay money to leave family alone.”
While cross-examining Rogers, defense attorney Razmi Tahirkheli asked her if investigators could know for certain that Andres Chavez had sent the text messages. Rogers said they could only be certain they came from his phone.
Also during cross-examination from Tahirkheli, Rogers said Andres Chavez attempted to call Mario Esparza-Gonzalez 12 times between 11:38 a.m. and 11:43 p.m. the day before the shooting, but all went unanswered.
Authorities also seized the phone of Andres Chavez's girlfriend Sabrina Figueroa, which Rogers said contained a 16-second video taken the night of July 14 showing Figueroa and the Chavez brothers together, drinking Corona beer. Anthony Chavez is seen in the video wearing a black cap like the one found at the scene of the shooting and is holding several live rounds of ammunition, Rogers said.
In addition to the murder charges, the brothers each face charges of criminal discharge of a firearm at an occupied vehicle, three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and criminal possession of a weapon by a felon.
After hearing testimony that Andres Chavez and his brother allegedly made a series of threats against Mario Esparza-Gonzalez over the course of a couple of months, Judge Wurst on Thursday recommended the criminal complaint against Andres Chavez be amended to include two additional counts of criminal threat.
Contact Brett Riggs at email@example.com.