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May 2, 2000

Apparent gang-related shooting points up diverse backgrounds of weekend visitors

A 'revolution' in Buckhead

Lyda Longa - Staff Tuesday, May 2, 2000

An early morning shooting this past weekend in the Buckhead Village that left a bullet lodged in a teenager's neck may have been gang-related.

Christian Saldana, 19, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday that he heard his attackers yell "Puro Sur Trece, Puro Sur Trece" --- which means Pure South 13 in Spanish --- early Sunday when he was shot inside a friend's vehicle at an intersection in Buckhead on the periphery of the popular entertainment district.

Saldana and Leonardo Torres, who denied being gang members, told Atlanta police that one of five teenage boys riding in a red Chevrolet Blazer that sidled up alongside them in the 3100 block of Peachtree Road shot at them about 2:30 a.m. Sunday.

"They started yelling and then one of them pulled out a small gun and shot at the tires of our car," Saldana said in Spanish. "The shooter missed the tires then he shot inside the car. That's when I was hit."

Sur 13 is a nationally known Mexican-American gang whose Georgia members first surfaced in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, but later expanded into Fulton County, police have said. In the past four to five years, many members of the gang --- which authorities say may have as many as 100 people --- began moving into apartment complexes on Morosgo Way and Lindbergh Drive in a section of Buckhead located just south of the entertainment district's glitzy clubs, bars and restaurants.

Buckhead Village residents and merchants first complained about Sur 13 invading their community in March 1998, when a shooting involving about a dozen Mexican-American men erupted on Buckhead Avenue.

While the gang's presence in Buckhead Village is not new, it's another example of the changing face of the district, once regarded as the city's upscale hot spot where only the well-heeled partied.

In the past few years, the Buckhead area has begun attracting young people from all over the Atlanta area, said Roger Melson, a Buckhead Village resident and a member of the Neighborhood Planning Unit that covers the area.

"Buckhead is going through a social revolution," Melson said. "For the last year or or so many of the clubs in the area have been catering to various groups with Latino Nights and Urban Nights, and that has brought a variety of people into the district."

Although some of the "new revelers" in the area may not be able to afford the district's pricey clubs and valet parking rates, Melson said, the fact they are welcomed with Latino and Urban Nights is enough to attract them to the village.

"What you see here after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays is a lot of people cruising around the district," Melson said. "You don't have a lot of people going into the bars or paying the $10 or $15 it takes to valet your car."

Saldana and his friends were cruising Sunday morning when they were attacked. "We just wanted to take a little ride around Buckhead," the teen said.

Still, while it's true a handful of the clubs have attracted patrons that originally did not frequent the district's hot spots, the incidence of violent crimes have dropped slightly in Buckhead Village since 1998, police records show.

Nonetheless, police began beefing up patrols in the area last week to handle the onslaught of patrons expected with the advent of warmer weather, said Atlanta Deputy Chief Wesley Derrick. Derrick also acknowledged that recent events in the district --- such as the post-Super Bowl double murder blamed on NFL star Ray Lewis and two of his friends --- contributed to that decision.

Police rosters show at least 10 officers --- including six on bicycles --- now patrol the area known as Buckhead Village, from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

But Councilman Lee Morris, who represents Buckhead on the Atlanta City Council, said police are not adequately staffed to provide protection in the district.

"They don't have enough bodies to do it," Morris said. "The problem is too big. And the judges don't slap anybody hard enough to make a difference. We've got to make some fundamental changes."

Morris said he hopes that the task force on bar regulations now considering a range of proposals on how and when the city's bars should operate will recommend changing the latest Monday through Friday closing time from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Although he said the change would not eliminate the conditions that have made Buckhead Village such a problem spot, he said earlier closings would reduce the number of incidents city police must cope with in the wee hours.

But police have their work cut out for them, regardless of what time the bars close.

Carl Taylor, a criminologist at Michigan State University who specializes in gang culture, said the problem with areas such as Buckhead Village is that people are in denial over the changes in their neighborhood's makeup.

"The middle class does not want to admit that the people who used to stay on the other side of the tracks are no longer staying there and they're coming into their neighborhoods," Taylor said.

"Today's youth is much tougher when it comes to defying authority. They no longer fear the consequences of going to jail, and they are out there posturing."

Staff Writer Julie Hairston contributed to this report


Homicides in Buckhead Village since 1990:
*As of Sunday

Source: Atlanta Police Department; research by JOSHUA GOOD / Staff (Metro edition) / CHUCK BLEVINS / Staff