A suspect in the hit-and-run crash death of a 21-year-old art student in San Francisco last week pleaded not guilty in court today to a host of felony charges, including murder.
The victim, Luis Armando Prieto, of San Francisco, was walking with his twin brother at Columbus and Vallejo streets at about 2:20 a.m. Friday when the driver of a Nissan Maxima going 70 mph with its headlights off struck and killed him, authorities said.
Prieto studied illustration and calligraphy at Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
Police said the crash happened after an argument in a parking lot at 530 Broadway led to several shots being fired in the air. The alleged shooters sped away in a car. No one was injured by the bullets.
Police and prosecutors say the car was driven by Oscar Alejandre, 21, of San Pablo, who was arraigned and pleaded not guilty in San Francisco Superior Court this morning to second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, hit-and-run causing death, negligent discharge of a firearm, and other firearm- and drug-related charges.
Fidel Bejarano, 24, of Hercules, an alleged passenger in the Maxima, pleaded not guilty to negligent discharge of a firearm and similar gun and drug charges.
A woman believed to have been involved in the argument, Andrea Luna, 22, of Richmond, also pleaded not guilty to drug and firearm charges. Her purse was found in the Maxima with a gun inside it, police said.
The courtroom was packed with members of Prieto’s family, some of whom wept during the proceedings, as well as the suspects’ families and friends.
Following the proceedings, Prieto’s brother Victor spoke with reporters about his disappointment at the not-guilty pleas.
“I can’t understand how they have the nerve to plead not guilty …I don’t know what’s going on through their minds,” he said.
“They just don’t care,” Prieto said. “They just want to get away, and they want to keep doing what they’re doing. They want to keep selling drugs, they want to keep killing people.”
In 2009, Alejandre was acquitted in Contra Costa County of first-degree murder for an alleged gang-related drive-by fatal shooting. Prosecutors there said some of Alejandre’s alleged accomplices agreed to testify against him, but a lack of corroborating evidence could not convince the jury to convict.
According to court records, Bejarano has several prior convictions for gun and drug offenses in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
Prosecutor Eric Fleming told Judge Donald Mitchell that video evidence shows the three suspects together inside a North Beach club–later identified by the district attorney’s office as the Roaring 20s strip club at 552 Broadway–prior to the shooting.
District attorney’s office spokesman Brian Buckelew said it’s believed the three suspects drove together to San Francisco from the East Bay that night.
In the parking lot, Luna got into an altercation with someone, and a witness saw one person take out a gun, fire several times, and then get into a car and drive off, Fleming said.
Police arrived and followed the suspect vehicle, saw it strike Prieto, and then found it abandoned several blocks away.
Alejandre was arrested running from the car, and a gun was found in the path of his flight, Fleming said.
Bejarano was found hiding between two cars nearby.
A second gun was located next to the car, Luna’s purse containing a third gun was found inside the car, and about an ounce of methamphetamine was found in the car’s center console, Fleming said.
Luna was arrested later that morning.
Bejarano’s attorney Betsy Wolkin today asked for her client’s $220,000 bail to be reduced, arguing that there was no evidence he had fired any shots. Fleming, however, said shell casings recovered at the scene of the shooting matched both guns found outside the car.
Mitchell denied the bail reduction.
Both Alejandre, held on $5 million bail, and Bejarano remain in custody. Luna posted $50,000 bail at an earlier date and is out of custody.
All three are due back in court March 23 to schedule a preliminary hearing.