Ruben Roa: Second time is a charm
Ruben Roa: Second time is a charm

Stanton's 18th Street Gang Used SUV as Lethal Weapon in Turf Battle

In a narrow Stanton alley at about 8 a.m. on Nov. 2, 2006, Rito "Boxer" Guajardo pedaled his mountain bike as fast as he could because the angry occupants of a pursuing, white Mercury Mountaineer SUV--three rival Latino gang members, including one nicknamed "Sick One"--wanted him dead.

Unfortunately, Guajardo--a member of the Big Stanton criminal street gang--didn't have the 12-gauge shotgun he'd used two months earlier in a shootout with members of the 18th Street gang.

But Guajardo, 44, enjoyed flabbergasting luck.

Ruben Roa, the 24-year-old driver of the stolen SUV, attempted to run him over but missed.

Guajardo must have felt incredible relief. He'd been caught in an area that both gangs claimed as their own turf and the enemy soldiers in the SUV had disappeared. He knew the faster he pedaled, the closer he'd get to his own homies and safety.

But Roa had no intention of accepting defeat. He doubled back to the same alley near Beach Boulevard and saw Guajardo still attempting his getaway. This time he made sure he won the contest. With his target between him a light pole, Roa aimed the SUV and slammed his foot on the gas pedal. 

Guajardo's luck and life ended instantaneously in a gruesome convergence of wood, steel and human flesh.

Court records coldly describe Guajardo's demise this way: "a vehicle versus bicycle incident."

After the killing, Roa ran some errands and then ditched the SUV. He didn't know it at the time, but he also essentially left his calling card inside the vehicle for Orange County Sheriff's Department homicide investigators. Forensic testing found his DNA on the steering wheel.

Prosecutors in the Orange County District Attorney's office charged him with murder. Roa's defense lawyer succeeded in giving jurors a conviction option: manslaughter. It didn't help the gangster's cause that, according to witnesses, he accelerated into Guajardo and no skid marks were found at the crime scene. After the jury sided with the prosecution, Superior Court Judge M. Marc Kelly sentenced Roa to a term of 15 years to life in prison.

Feeling cheated, Roa appealed. This month, a California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana considered his complaints. In a 15-page ruling, a three-justice panel ruled that the hoodlum was wrong about the correctness of Kelly's jury instructions.

But they determined that Roa had one good point. Kelly had allowed him to be convicted and sentenced for three crimes--murder, street terrorism and receiving stolen property (plus gang enhancements). The justices found that the murder and street terrorism charges stemmed from a single act. They said it was unfair to punish him twice for the same crime.

The move is essentially meaningless, however. Kelly had sentenced Roa to a concurrent, two-year term for the street terrorism conviction. Upshot: the stiff prison term remains intact.

In reality, Roa's prison stint will be at least 44 years. He previously had been sentenced to 29 years in prison for numerous other unrelated assault convictions. If he ever emerges back into society through the wishes of a future state parole board, he'll be in his 70s.

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