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Dispatch: "If we don't say anything, they're going to keep killing"

May 9, 2009 |  3:32 pm

TacotruckOn a typical day, 38-year-old Jaime Carpio is outside El Comal de Mexico, a taco trailer parked in front of a barbershop in Lennox, flattening dough with a tortilla maker while cooking gorditas and chatting with customers. But on the night of Wednesday, April 29, one of his longer shifts, Carpio was inside the trailer assisting other cooks.

"We had a lot of orders that day," Carpio said.

About 10:40 p.m., authorities said, an unidentified man armed with a semiautomatic rifle stood at the corner of Inglewood and Lennox boulevards and fired at the crowd in front of the trailer, authorities said.

"It sounded like firecrackers,"  Carpio said. "I looked out through the window and saw people throwing themselves on the ground." The gunfire struck and killed Amado Cendejas Sr., a 59-year old Latino, of Los Angeles.Two boys, a woman and two other men were wounded in the shooting and are expected to survive,  Los Angeles County Sheriff's officials said.

The gunman then fled in a vehicle.

Placing his right hand over his heart, Carpio said the shooting didn't frighten him. But "I was angry," he said. "I was angry to see people lying on the ground wounded."

Carpio said Cendejas was a mariachi guitar player. Over the last six months, he and his band would play at the local bars, restaurants and taco stands in the area.

"They would come every Tuesday and Wednesday to eat here," Carpio said, smiling. "We would joke with them, we'd tell them 'we'll give you five tacos for five songs.' "

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lt. Pat Nelson said the gunman had no specific target. Three suspects were taken into custody the next day.

"Deputies were in the area and saw the vehicle speeding away," Nelson said, adding that an abandoned weapon believed to have been used in the shooting was also found in the area.

Authorities did not immediately identify the individuals arrested in connection with the taco truck shooting.

"If we don't say anything, they're going to keep killing," Carpio said. The shooting, he said, was the first major incident at the taco trailer. In the past, he said, people have thrown water balloons, eggs or paintballs at the trailer from passing vehicles.

Despite the killing of Cendejas, customers returned to the small trailer the next day.

Less than 24 hours after the shooting, Carpio was back to his routine, chatting with customers, occasionally trying to speak over the engines from the planes descending into LAX.

-- Ruben Vives

Photo: Curbside memorial to Amado Cendejas Jr. near the site of his shooting in Lennox. Credit: Sarah Ardalani/Los Angeles Times