Investigators from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department look for clues at the scene of the shooting on Dutchman Road.
WATSONVILLE — The 43-year-old man who was shot to death Tuesday night in a quiet neighborhood off Green Valley Road was identified by his family as Rafael Cendejas Martinez, described as a kind, intelligent man who helped his neighbors with yard work whenever he could.
“He was a hard worker,” said his sister Ana Cendejas as she watched investigators from the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office comb through the weed-choked patch of lawn her brother was mowing when he was killed just two doors down from the house in which he grew up.
“He was mowing the lawn and the next thing you know he was gunned down,” she said.
Ana Cendejas said her brother came to the U.S when he was 11 months old from his home in Michoacán, Mexico, and spent his life in Watsonville. He graduated from Watsonville High School then went to college and earned a degree in business administration, and was versed in computer science.
Cendejas left behind three sons, 23, 8 and 7, she said.
“He was always laughing, always in a good mood,” Ana Cendejas said. “He had jokes for everything.”
The shooting on the 300 block of Dutchman Road was not a random drive-by, as was originally reported, and is possibly gang-related, but investigators do not believe that the incident was a gang-on-gang attack, said Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Deputy April Skalland.
Also unclear is whether the victim was involved in gangs.
“These people that targeted him knew who he was,” Skalland said. “It was not a random act. They purposely went up to him and shot him.”
Ana Cendejas said her brother was not involved in the gang lifestyle, but said she didn’t know why he was shot, or why anyone would target him.
“If he was involved in anything, he would have kept it to himself,” she said.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office is looking for two men believed to be involved in the shooting, and on Wednesday detectives were canvassing the neighborhood with a sketch of a possible suspect.
According to Deputy April Skalland, the victim was mowing a lawn approximately 6:10 p.m. at a home near the intersection of Dutchman and Roe when two men drove up in a burgundy or brown small sedan, and both got out of the vehicle. One of the men shot the victim multiple times, then both suspects got back in the vehicle and drove away.
One of the shots hit the victim in the neck, and he died at the scene.
Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene and closed a two-block stretch of the road as dozens of neighbors quietly watched.
Skalland said it does not appear that the shooting is tied to Saturday night’s fatal stabbing of Brandon Gil, 21, on East Lake Avenue at Brennan Street, which Watsonville police described as gang related.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies established Project Rope, a countywide, multi-law agency effort to monitor key roadways and intersections in hope of snagging a possible suspect.
Dutchman Road, which runs perpendicular to Green Valley, is a string of single-family homes in a quiet, rural setting that neighbors Tuesday described as a safe place where children are always playing outside.
Eddie Chavez, who has lived in the area for about five years, said he was talking on the phone with his daughters who live in Los Angeles when he heard about seven shots.
“Kids play here all day long,” he said. “I’m thinking, wow, what happened? What’s this world coming to? It’s crazy.”
Watsonville Police gang investigators, Watsonville Fire, Pajaro Valley Fire, American Medical Response paramedics and the California Highway Patrol also responded to the incident.
The suspects are described as Hispanic male adults, about 5 feet, eight inches tall with a medium build. They are about 20 years old with dark hair and dark eyes.
The suspect vehicle id described as a burgundy or brown sedan, possibly a Toyota or a Honda, with a partial license plate number of 6PVD.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office Investigation Division at 454-2311, or the anonymous tip line at 454-2847.
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