Murder suspect Jose Antonio Barajas had been quarreling with another young man in the days before he shot up the vehicle in which the man and three others—including 19-year-old Ariana Zendejas—were traveling the night of Aug. 1, 2014, according to court documents.
The shooting resulted in Zendejas’ death.
Barajas—who was arrested for the murder last year after local, federal and Mexican authorities located him in Mexico—faced a preliminary hearing April 15 at San Benito County Courthouse. At the end of the hearing, in which four Hollister police officers who were involved in the 2014 investigation testified, Judge Steven R. Sanders determined there was enough evidence against Barajas to send the case to a jury trial.
Barajas is charged with a total of six felony counts in relation to the shooting that took Zendejas’ life: one count of murder, three counts of attempted murder, kidnapping and shooting at an occupied motor vehicle.
Barajas’ next hearing was scheduled for May 2 as an arraignment on the updated list of charges, which the San Benito County District Attorney Candace Hooper filed after the judge’s ruling in the April 15 preliminary hearing. A trial date has not been set.
The shooting happened on B Street, following a vehicle pursuit between a car Barajas was traveling in and the victims’ vehicle, according to officers’ testimony at the April 15 preliminary hearing. A vehicle driven by Gabriel Orozco, Jr. and occupied by three passengers—including Zendejas—had come to a stop at the intersection of South Street and Westside Boulevard the night of Aug. 1, 2014. While stopped at the intersection, Orozco noticed a vehicle coming from a different direction and recognized three occupants—driver Denay Gutierrez, Vanessa Flores-Ibarra and Barajas.
That vehicle began to chase Orozco’s vehicle through the west side of town, according to police. When the vehicle in which Barajas was riding caught up to Orozco and his passengers near B and West streets, Barajas opened fire with a handgun.
He shot a total of five rounds into the victims’ vehicle, according to police. One of the victims told police that he saw Barajas’ arm sticking out of the window of the pursuing vehicle with a gun in his hand just after the shots were fired.
One of the officers who testified April 15 said the surviving shooting victims stated that as soon as the shots stopped and they fled the scene, they noticed that Zendejas was slumped over in the back seat where she had been sitting, covered in blood and unresponsive.
The victims drove to Hazel Hawkins Hospital, where police responded shortly after the shooting, according to preliminary hearing testimony. Zendejas was pronounced dead later that evening.
Orozco told police about his previous feud with Barajas, which stemmed in part from Orozco choosing to date a young woman whom Barajas had previously dated, according to the officers’ testimony April 15. Earlier on Aug. 1, 2014, Barajas and Orozco had been involved in another vehicle chase, which resulted in someone from a vehicle associated to Barajas throwing rocks at Orozco’s vehicle.
In the afternoon, Orozco had been driving with Zendejas and the other two occupants who were later shot at, according to the April 15 testimony. Orozco dropped of his friends at a nearby home, and drove to find Barajas. When he found Barajas’ parked vehicle at a different location in Hollister, he vandalized the car with a hatchet, according to police testimony.
Orozco went back to pick up his friends, and later encountered Barajas on the streets, resulting in another chase and the shooting, according to police.
Barajas fled the area and the country shortly after the shooting. He was arrested July 12, 2018, in Guadalajara, Mexico in relation to the Hollister shooting. He was deported from Mexico and flown to San Jose, where he was transferred to the San Benito County Jail. Barajas remains in local custody as he awaits trial.
The attempted murder charges against Barajas are related to Orozco and the other two occupants of the vehicle into which Barajas allegedly shot. The kidnapping charge is related to Gutierrez and Flores-Ibarra, who said Barajas forced her to help him flee the area. Flores-Ibarra traveled to Mexico with Barajas, but ran away from him and surrendered to border patrol authorities in February 2015.
Gutierrez was dropped off at a location in Hollister shortly after the shooting, before Barajas fled to Mexico with Flores-Ibarra, according to testimony in the preliminary hearing.
The charges against Barajas also include “special allegations” for his use of a firearm in the crime, according to court documents. If convicted, Barajas faces life in prison.