SALT LAKE CITY — An ongoing dispute between rival gangs put motorists on a busy freeway during rush hour traffic at risk when one group opened fire on the other, police say.
The Utah Department of Public Safety, with assistance from the Metro Gang Unit, announced Thursday they had arrested a West Valley man in connection with a shooting on state Route 201 Tuesday.
Jimmy Alexis Lopez, 18, who goes by the moniker "Savage," was arrested for investigation of attempted murder and four counts of discharge of a firearm in the direction of a vehicle.
Investigators believe Lopez shot an 18-year-old man in another vehicle while driving on the 2100 South freeway near 3200 West.
"We believe this incident really stems between a conflict between rival gangs. One group of gang members is unhappy, I guess, with some decisions made by another gang, so they decided to resolve their conflict through violent circumstances," said State Bureau of Investigations Lt. Jared Garcia.
A small red sedan pulled up next to the victim on the left shoulder, and someone from inside the sedan fired at least four shots at the 18-year-old's SUV. The man was hit once, causing the SUV to drift off of the road and crash into another vehicle. He was taken to a local hospital in serious condition. Garcia said he was expected to make a full recovery. A 15-year-old passenger in the SUV was not injured.
Investigators believe Lopez and his group may have been out looking specifically for the victim.
"I believe they're actively looking for each other and actively looking for retaliation or to commit violent actions against each other for whatever differences they have," Garcia said. "I really think that this just really stems around a conflict between two gangs that really have a strong dislike for each other."
Despite the young ages of those involved, Garcia said the victims are members of Salt Lake's oldest independent street gang, and Lopez has been a known gang member for some time.
"Gangs are recruiting kids at a very young age. They're very impressionable when they're in their teens. So the glamor and the false pretenses gang members share with these kids is exciting to them. So that's a good target audience for these individuals to recruit, and we're seeing gang members' kids are getting involved in gangs at a much younger age," he said.
Lopez was identified by "multiple witnesses and victims as the shooter in this case," according to a Salt Lake County Jail report. Investigators learned he was at a Sprint store, 2723 W. 3500 South, Wednesday afternoon. Members of the gang unit went to the store and Lopez was taken into custody without incident.
Garcia said there are "multiple people of interest" in the case who investigators still want to interview, and additional arrests are possible. As of Thursday, no weapons had been recovered from the shooting.
Lopez, whose Facebook page has cover photo of red and white clothing next to a stack of $100 bills laid out, has had several violence-related charges filed against him in court over the past two years.
In January he was charged with three counts of assault in West Valley Justice Court, according to court records. That case was later dismissed. In April, Lopez was charged with assault with gang enhancements in one case, and three identical assault counts in another.
In one of those cases, Lopez punched a man in the face and then used a stun gun on him, according to charging documents, and then punched two more men who tried to help the first one. In another case, Lopez asked a man if he "banged," and then chased and assaulted the man when he said no, charges state.
In 2015, Lopez was charged with aggravated assault and two counts of domestic violence in the presence of a child. The case was eventually dismissed when the state was unable to proceed at the preliminary hearing, according to court records.
In that case, Lopez hit his brother-in-law in the head with a skateboard while his two children were standing next to him, according to court records.
In a separate case in 2015, Lopez was convicted of aggravated assault and was placed on probation for 36 months. One of the terms of his probation was to have "no contact with known gang members," court records state.
In that case, police say Lopez attacked a 17-year-old boy at Granger High School who used to be associated with a rival gang.
In yet another case in 2015, Lopez was convicted of attempted drug distribution, and being a restricted person in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, on top of the 90 days he served while the case was pending in court, according to court records.
In that case, police reported finding Lopez in a motel room with drugs. The room was rented by Lopez's mother because she had had an argument with him the previous night and wanted him out of the house, according to charging documents. A maid cleaning the room the next day found a handgun under the bed and called police.
In 2014, Lopez was charged with aggravated assault resulting in serious bodily injury. That case was also dismissed when the state was unable to proceed at the preliminary hearing, court records state.
In that case, Lopez was charged with using a metal pipe to assault another boy after school at a nearby fast-food restaurant. The victim had to have staples put in his head at a local hospital in addition to be treated for a broken finger and several cuts and bruises to his arms, court records state.