Ricardo Diaz, 19, from Morgan Hill, stands in court for a previous hearing in the Nov. 4 drive-by shooting case.

A plea hearing for the five suspects accused of killing
14-year-old Tara Romero in a drive-by shooting was rescheduled
A plea hearing for the five suspects accused of killing 14-year-old Tara Romero in a drive-by shooting was rescheduled Thursday.

Esmeling Bahena, 18 of Morgan Hill; Ricardo Diaz, 19 of Morgan Hill; Fernando Mateo Lopez, 20 of Gilroy; Primitivo Hernandez, 23 of San Jose; and Ramon Gutierrez, 17 of Morgan Hill appeared at the Santa Clara County Criminal Hall of Justice in San Jose to plead to charges of murder and attempted murder.

However the hearing was postponed and a new plea date was set for Jan. 26, 2012 in San Jose, according to Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office spokeswoman Lisa McCrary.

All five are charged with murder and attempted murder, with enhancements for their alleged gang-related intent.

Police say the five suspects drove by the corner of Del Monte and Cosmo avenues, just outside the Village Avante apartment complex, in a single car the night of Nov. 4. As they drove by, they unloaded several rounds at a group of teens standing on a grassy knoll next to the sidewalk, and continued driving past the scene.

An officer on patrol in the area saw the car blow through a stop sign on Spring Avenue and immediately turned around to pursue it, police said. By the time he caught up to the car at a Barnell Avenue residence, he heard about the shooting on the radio.

The officer called for backup, and police from Morgan Hill, Gilroy, the sheriff’s office and California Highway Patrol surrounded the home and contained traffic, authorities said. Police were able to safely arrest all five suspects.

Found at the home were a .22-caliber revolver and a loaded SKS assault rifle, police said.

In addition to killing Romero, police said the suspects wounded three other teenagers – a 15-year-old boy from Morgan Hill, and two 14-year-old girls from San Jose. The two female victims spent several days and underwent surgeries as they continue to recover from the wounds, according to their aunt.

While the suspects are believed to be members of a Sureno street gang and committed the crime for the gang’s overall benefit, police do not think the victims were involved in any gang-related activity.

The teens had just left a birthday party at the Morgan Hill Community Park, which is adjacent to the intersection where the shooting happened, and were on their way home to other parts of town, according to police and witness statements.

Romero, 14, was pronounced dead at the scene when paramedics arrived, police said.

Also shot were Alicia Sotelo, 14 of San Jose; Rosa Castaneda, 14 of San Jose; and Chris Loredo, 15 of Morgan Hill.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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