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'He was never afraid to help you'

May 6, 2008 | 10:00 am

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Melvin Espinoza, 26, a Latino man, was fatally shot at the front door of his apartment in Lynwood about 1:30 a.m., August 27, 2005.

He and his girlfriend were awakened by a neighbor knocking at their front door. The neighbor said her boyfriend was arguing with four men who had been stealing fire extinguishers in the building. She asked Espinoza if he could intervene, Espinoza's sister, Jackie, said.

"He was never afraid to help you," she said.

He confronted the four men. "He told them to leave, and I guess they felt they were being disrespected," his sister said.

Espinoza and his girlfriend were returning to their apartment when two of the four men approached them. Espinoza said her brother pushed his girlfriend inside the apartment, closed the door and was shot in the face by one of the two men. He collapsed by the door and died, she said.

Four months after the shooting two of the four men were identified and arrested. The men were Latino gang members. Jackie Espinoza said her brother's girlfriend and the neighbor testified against the two men. The gunman was convicted of murder, she said. The other man was acquitted and released. Fearing retaliation, Espinoza's girlfriend moved to her grandmother's house in Riverside. Their neighbors also moved out of the area.

Jackie Espinoza, 31, said her brother had a big heart. He was 6 feet 1 and weighed about 200 pounds. She said he was the kind of man who would pull over if your car was broken down at the side of the road. He would offer you a ride as long as you gave him gas money. He never gave homeless people money but bought them food instead.

Her brother wanted to finish school to become a phlebotomist, a person who draws blood. He was a medical assistant and was taking care of their diabetic mother, who required insulin shots. She said her brother oversaw their mother's medications and doctor appointments.

She said her brother had a 1996 green Ford Explorer SUV that he loved. "He only used it for special occasions," she said. The SUV had neon lights, rims, a sound system and a Flowmaster exhaust system. "You could always hear him coming around the corner of our house," she said. "He loved loud noises."

According to Jackie, her 26-year-old sister now drives the SUV. "He had left something for all of us, should anything happen to him," she said. "He wanted her to keep the truck."   

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