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Echo Park neighborhood shaken by shootings

March 2, 2009 |  4:43 pm

Miguel Chavez was taking a Sunday afternoon nap when he was startled by what sounded like fireworks outside his Echo Park home. When he shuffled out to his balcony to get a better view, he saw a man in a black truck pull up to his neighbor’s house on Baxter Street, lean out the window with a gun and say “Eric, how about if you die today?” The man in the car fired two shots and sped away.

Officials later identified the slain neighbor as Eric Zamarripa, 38, and said his gang-related shooting was the first of three in Echo Park and Highland Park that left two people dead and one injured. A suspected gang member was detained Monday in connection with the three shootings, as the Echo Park neighborhood where two of the shootings took place remained shaken.

“It’s horrific,” said Susan Borden, 60, who has lived on Echo Park's Valentine Street for almost 30 years. “The fact that there were no innocent victims is amazing.”

Borden and Chavez, 33, said the area has changed in recent years with more affluent people, young singles and trendy coffee shops moving in and with some Latino families, which had been there for decades, moving elsewhere. Chavez moved to Echo Park from Jalisco, Mexico, with his family when he was 17 and said it was “very, very rare” to have white people in the neighborhood in the 1990s. He said he began noticing the demographic shift about six years ago.

The area used to be much more violent than it is now, Borden and Chavez said.

“This is generally a fairly quiet neighborhood,” Borden said. “The neighborhood has changed radically, but there’s still some pockets” of violent activity.

Police said the three shootings were connected and gang-related. They began about 5 p.m. Sunday with shootings on Baxter Street and Echo Park Avenue. About a half-hour later, police said, the same man driving a black truck shot and killed Carlos Gonzalez, 37, in the 4300 block of Toland Way in Highland Park.

In a bizarre twist, police caught up with the suspected shooter in court. Andrew Upshaw, 33, was waiting Monday to appear before a judge on a single count of felony drug possession when police came into the downtown courtroom with their guns drawn and arrested him. He was being questioned by Los Angeles police, who expected to book him in connection with the shootings.

Chavez, who works for the city’s Bureau of Sanitation, said that despite the shootings, he does not think his neighborhood is any more dangerous than most other places in L.A. Still, he did not want his two young children to know how his neighbor died. So he told them, “It’s a movie that somebody was filming.”

Previous L.A. Now posts reported that the third shooting, on Toland Way, was in Glassell Park. As The Times continues its interactive effort to map the boundaries of L.A. neighborhoods, our editors have decided to locate that shooting in Highland Park.

-- Ari B. Bloomekatz and Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times