KEARNS — Police say an ongoing dispute between two rival gangs has "ramped up" over the past month, and seemingly came to a head this week, resulting in the deaths of two innocent bystanders Tuesday night.
"This is getting absolutely ridiculous," Unified Police Lt. Brian Lohrke said. "I know the citizens in Kearns are absolutely fed up with it. We're fed up with it. We're going to be ramping up our efforts on the gang end. We're absolutely furious about this."
Tami Lynn Woodard, 50, and Lloyd Everett Pace, 55, both of Kearns, were in a Toyota Yaris about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday when they were hit by a Ford F-150 pickup truck with four gang members inside who were trying to flee the scene of a drive-by shooting, Lohrke said.
Woodward and Pace were pronounced dead at the scene. The couple had been engaged since December, according to their Facebook pages.
Investigators believe the truck that smashed into the couple was involved in at least three other shooting incidents on Monday, Lohrke said. Detectives had already been looking for it when the crash was reported.
"We believe this truck was also involved in some shootings in Kearns the night before in this same area, but no one was injured," he said.
In those cases, the occupants of the vehicle were either the aggressors and committed drive-by shootings, or were the targets of retaliation by a rival group, Lohrke said.
The drive-by shootings on Monday are also connected to the shooting of a 17-year-old boy on Sunday near 6200 S. Loder Drive (5155 West), he said.
Another drive-by shooting with no injuries was also reported in Kearns on Sept. 9.
Whether the shootings can also be connected to the killing of 16-year-old Fernando Aranda, of Kearns, was being investigated Wednesday. Fernando was shot and killed May 30 near 4700 W. Thayn Drive (3935 South) following an argument between two groups. That shooting came four hours after a 15-year-old boy was shot in the abdomen at 3810 S. Redwood Road. The boy survived his injuries, according to police.
Tuesday night, the pickup truck drove past a known gang house on the corner of 5240 West and 5400 South about 7:30 p.m., Lohrke said. Witnesses told police that a shootout ensued with both occupants of the vehicle firing at the house and one or more people from inside the house firing back.
As the truck was trying to speed away from the house, it crashed into the Yaris just a short distance away, causing the Yaris to crash into a driveway and the pickup truck to flip over.
When officers arrived, a 19-year-old man was still inside the truck unable to move with a gunshot wound to his back hip. Officers surrounded the area and quickly caught the other three occupants of the truck, according to Lohrke.
Multiple weapons were recovered from that scene, he said. Argenis Daniel Ramirez-Saedt, 19, and Jose Luis Muñoz-Lugo, 24, were each arrested for investigation of two counts of murder and five counts of discharge of a firearm. Rosalio Alvarez, 19, and a 17-year-old were also arrested and expected to be booked into the Salt Lake County Jail and juvenile detention for investigation of the same charges.
Detectives also went back to the house where the shootout occurred and served a search warrant late Tuesday. Although no arrests were made, Lohrke said investigators found 10 to 12 people inside and seized several more guns.
The recent violence in Kearns that appears to be tied to gang rivalry has become a top priority for the Unified Police Department.
"We want to ensure the citizens of Kearns that they are safe here. We not only want to tell them, but we want them to see our presence out there," Lohrke said.
Wednesday morning, 14 Unified police officers were assigned to the Kearns area. Normally, three officers and a supervisor are assigned to the area.
Lohrke said detectives from the Metro Gang Unit, Special Operations and the Motors Division will be used to supplement the usual Kearns patrol units around the clock for the forseeable future.
"We have cops everywhere. We will continue this effort as long as it takes," he said, while also noting that it would be "stupid" for gangs to try any retaliation right now. "We want it to be known we are here."
A town hall meeting to discuss the gang problem is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Kearns High School.
Ramirez-Saedt already faces misdemeanor charges of bringing a loaded gun onto school property a year ago, according to court records. In that case, Ramirez-Saedt went inside Granger High School during school hours and failed to check in with the office. When police caught up with him, they discovered that he was carrying a loaded firearm that "was concealed on his person and was readily accessible for immediate use," the charges state. He also had a knife.
On June 29, a warrant was issued for Ramirez-Saedt for failing to show up to court on that case. He was arrested on Sunday but was released later that day due to jail overcrowding, according to jail and court records.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to support the families of Woodard and Pace.
"Losing a brother and co-worker is something that you never see happening. Lloyd was the most genuine, hard working and down to earth guy out there! It's going to be hard not working with you. I'm going to miss you dogg, Rest In Paradise!" one man who works at Progressive Plumbing and Piping. Inc., wrote on Facebook.
"My heart will remember your name till the day I die my friend. You will be missed!!" wrote another co-worker.
Pace's Facebook page says he attended South Pearl Academy in Draper. Woodard's Facebook page states she is originally from Portola Valley, California. She has also lived in Woods Cross and West Valley City.