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    Two Mexican State Officers Killed in Gunbattle

    2 in custody after shootouts at Tijuana hospital, bus station

    By Sandra Dibble
    and Anna Cearley
    UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
    April 19, 2007
    TIJUANA – A busy public hospital that serves the city's poorest residents was the scene of a shootout yesterday that claimed the lives of two law-enforcement officers and left hundreds of frightened patients and staff members locked inside for several hours as police searched for suspects.

    As soldiers and police swarmed the area in the city's Rio Zone, the 120-bed General Hospital was partly evacuated shortly after noon, with some patients temporarily moved to a city park across the street and treated on cots set up on a basketball court. Others were driven to nearby hospitals.

    Sixty patients were evacuated, according to Baja California health authorities, but it remained unclear yesterday how many were left inside.

    The incident at the hospital caused a commotion that was rare even for a city plagued by drug-related violence. It began about 10:30 a.m., a couple of miles from the hospital, near the city's bus station, known as La Central Camionera.

    By late afternoon, two suspects were in custody and another was dead, and the hospital was again admitting patients and visitors. But numerous questions persisted about the attack in the parking lot of the hospital and the emergency room area.

    “Definitely we're talking about organized crime,” said Jaime Niebla, a top investigator with the Baja California Attorney General's Office.

    State and federal officers on patrol had been chasing two armed men who were in a white pickup in a residential neighborhood behind the bus station. The suspects refused an order to stop, shot at the officers, then ran when their vehicle crashed into a bus, according to the Baja California Attorney General's Office. One of the suspects was injured, and another who apparently had been shot fell dead in the concrete channel of the Tijuana River.

    As a Red Cross ambulance carried the wounded suspect and an injured bystander to General Hospital, armed assailants were in pursuit.

    State investigators said the assailants were trying to free the injured suspect as they shot their way through the parking lot and into the hospital's emergency room. Two state police agents who were at the hospital on unrelated matters were killed. They are José Adrian López Torres, a member of the State Preventive Police, and Rodolfo García Parrales, a state prison guard.

    A federal organized crime unit has taken charge of the investigation, according to a statement released late yesterday by the Baja California Attorney General's Office. Among the items seized are three guns, three ski masks, and a bullet-resistant vest.

    Hours after the men entered the hospital, signs of the battle were evident. Bullet holes pocked the glass door of the emergency room. Bullets had pierced a nearby ambulance and the metallic roof that covered an outdoor waiting area and chipped a wall and some concrete benches.

    Inocencia López, 27, was in the first floor maternity ward after giving birth to her fourth child at 8:30 a.m. when she heard shots, she said.

    “Someone came in to say there had been injuries, and then they closed the doors because we could hear a great commotion,” she said.

    Meanwhile, her husband was outside in the emergency room waiting area, watching as the assailants fired their weapons and burst into the hospital. José de Solano said he saw four or five attackers and ran inside after them to find his wife. “I wanted to get to where she was, but I couldn't because there were too many people running in every direction.”

    About two hours after the initial assault, gunfire resounded from inside the hospital, sending bystanders outside once again scurrying for cover. Law enforcement authorities had yet to clear up questions last night about the origin of that gunfire.

    José Bustamante Moreno, Baja California's secretary of health, reported that part of the hospital had been flooded, apparently because a pipe had burst. In a statement late yesterday, the health department said the hospital would mostly be operating as usual today, and crews were working to repair the damage, which was affecting the blood bank and surgery area. Until the repairs are complete, emergency cases are being rerouted to other hospitals, the statement said.

    Patients without any kind of insurance are treated at the hospital, which means many patients are those who work in the large informal sector of the Mexican economy. Those people are not on social security rolls and therefore do not qualify for treatment at social security hospitals.

    Shortly after taking office late last year, Mexican President Felipe Calderón started a series of operations against organized crime in several states. Operation Tijuana, which also has been called Operation Baja California, started Jan. 2 with 3,300 soldiers and federal agents sent to the border region.
    Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.

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    or otherwise distort statements of fact.
    FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley

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    Willowdared's Avatar
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    Drug cartel is blamed for hospital attack



    Official says shooters tried to free accomplice

    By Sandra Dibble and Anna Cearley
    UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
    April 20, 2007
    TIJUANA – A group of gunmen who shot their way into a public hospital Wednesday, killing two police officers and creating panic among staff and patients, were members of the Arellano Félix drug cartel, the region's major drug trafficking group, a federal official said yesterday.


    The assailants were trying to reach a fellow cartel member, Javier Estrada Dominguez, who was being treated at Tijuana's General Hospital after a shootout with police, said Patricio Patiño Arias, a top official with Mexico's Public Safety Secretariat.
    Four people tried to rescue the wounded man, Patiño said.

    One of the four, Ernesto Sánchez Vega, 23, was captured. He told police a man identified only as “El Verde” had ordered them to retrieve Estrada.

    Patiño identified Sánchez's accomplices only by their nicknames: “El Bloque,” “El Macaco” and “La Roca.” The three apparently escaped, although Patiño did not explicitly say that.

    Patiño's statements at a news conference in Mexico City yesterday provided the most extensive description so far of the shootings that led to partial evacuation of the hospital and brought hundreds of police officers and military personnel to the area. But many details remained unclear, and some of Patiño's statements contradict previous information offered by Baja California authorities.

    He said police who started the pursuit were acting on leads that an armed group was planning an attack on drug traffickers. Patiño didn't say who had been planning the attack, but he said it was aimed at the “Milenio Cartel.”

    The Milenio group, Patiño said, is led by drug trafficking suspect Joaquín Guzmán and includes heavyweights such as trafficking suspect Ismael Zambada. The group has been trying to move into the Arellanos' turf in recent years.

    The law enforcement agents' intelligence led them to focus on a white pickup in a neighborhood behind the city's main bus station. When the driver refused to stop, a shootout ensued. After the truck crashed into a bus, the driver and passenger ran away.

    One man died at the scene. Estrada was wounded, and an ambulance took him to the General Hospital. Doctors operated on him Wednesday for two gunshot wounds and turned him over to federal authorities yesterday, state health officials said.

    The Arellanos have suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, including the arrests of their top leaders, leading some to contemplate the cartel's demise. “In the city of Tijuana, the Arellano Félix cartel continues operating,” Patiño said.

    At the hospital yesterday, workers were patching up damaged sections of the emergency unit, where glass had shattered and a bullet pierced a water pipe, but the rest of the hospital was operating normally. Authorities expected to reopen the unit today.
    Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.

    Do not puff, shade, skew, tailor, firm up, stretch, massage,
    or otherwise distort statements of fact.
    FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley

 

 

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