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Local
3 teenagers arrested in Winston-Salem drive-by shooting that killed 5-year-old boy

Three teenagers have been arrested in the death of a 5-year-old boy who was shot in a drive-by shooting in Winston-Salem on Saturday evening.

Oscar Mendez-Rodriguez, 17, of Pleasant Street, Winston-Salem, a 15-year-old and a 14-year-old were arrested after police found the suspected car at an apartment in the 3800 block of Old Vineyard Road. The 14-year-old was arrested there, police said. A .38 caliber pistol and a silver Nissan Sentra were seized. Mendez-Rodriguez was arrested at his Pleasant Street home. It’s unclear where the 15-year-old was arrested.

Mendez-Rodriguez has been charged with murder and is being held in the Forsyth County Detention Center with no bond allowed. He has a preliminary court date of 9 a.m. on July 25.

Police said the 5-year-old boy died after a bullet traveled into his apartment and struck him in the head about 5:20 p.m.

The gunshot was fired from a moving vehicle that was driving on Cole Road outside the family’s home at Cole Village Apartments, police said.

It is believed to be a random act of violence. It’s unclear how many shots were fired, Lt. Gregory Dorn with the Criminal Investigations Division said.

The boy was in his apartment with his mother, father and 3-year-old sister, none of whom were injured.

EMS arrived, began lifesaving procedures and transported the child to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, where he underwent emergency surgery, police said.

The boy, whose name was not disclosed, died at the hospital at 8:04 p.m. Saturday.

Police said there was no evidence that the victim’s apartment was intentionally targeted.

Investigators learned from witnesses that a silver car occupied by several males drove through the area and began randomly firing handguns from the vehicle. Witnesses described multiple rounds being fired, and investigators located several fired shell casings in the area, police said.

Two other apartments and an unoccupied vehicle were also struck. One other damaged apartment was occupied, but no one was injured.

“It appears it was a light-colored sedan coming down Cole Road firing indiscriminately,” said Dorn, who was on the scene around 8:30 p.m. “The shots were fired from the moving vehicle.”

“There’s been quite a bit of shootings, discharging of firearms in this area,” he said. “We’re not sure if it’s gang related.”

This is the 13th homicide this year, compared to 12 at this time last year.

Anyone with information regarding this investigation is asked to contact the Winston-Salem Police Department at 336-773-7700 or CrimeStoppers at 336-727-2800 (En Español at 336- 728-3904). CrimeStoppers may also be contacted via “Crime Stoppers of Winston-Salem” on Facebook.


Columnists
Fear, anger spread in wake of drive-by shooting that killed a child in Winston-Salem

Four people, two men and two women, stood Sunday morning in front of a wooden staircase leading to a second-floor apartment where the blinds were tightly drawn. They spoke quietly amongst themselves.

You didn’t need to be fluent in Spanish to know what they were talking about; a little boy had been shot to death the day before in that upstairs apartment.

Winston-Salem Journal 

Scott Sexton

He had been watching TV, his parents and sister nearby, when a random bullet fired during a drive-by shooting, struck him. He was only 5.

What else would anyone in the Cole Village Apartments be discussing? The weather? The World Cup?

The younger of the two women walked a few steps toward her apartment just below the one where the boy had been shot. She pointed to fresh bullet holes in the wall by a window. Bicycles and toys were nearby.

She spoke rapidly, and it was difficult to follow with remedial high-school Spanish. “Los ninos” — the children — was clear.

How have people reacted? The way you’d expect.

“With fear,” she said. “I live here with my children. I want to move.”

Gunfire not unusual

The sound of gunfire isn’t unusual in the neighborhood. Nor is the fact that bullets sometimes find their targets.

The official version of events, provided by the Winston-Salem Police Department in two separate bites overnight and first thing Sunday morning, was predictably sparse with the “where,” “when” and “how” answered.

The “why” remains to be seen.

At approximately 5:20 p.m. on July 6, 2019, authorities with the Winston-Salem Police Department responded to 2941 Cole Ridge (Court) Apt. E on a report of a shooting involving a 5-year-old. Upon arrival, officers found the child suffering from an apparent gunshot to the head.

A silver sedan with several young men inside rolled through the complex spraying gunfire at the building. The boy was hit, his parents and his 3-year-old sister were also inside the apartment.

Detectives found the car across town on Old Vineyard Road and recovered a .38-caliber pistol. Three young men were arrested, 17-year-old Oscar Mendez-Rodriguez and two juveniles, 14 and 15.

Beyond that, residents of the Cole Village Apartments were left sorting a toxic mixture of hearsay, fear, conjecture and anger.

“Just rumors,” said a young woman named Beatriz, equally comfortable speaking English as Spanish. “We know a boy was killed and three people were arrested. Not much.”

As she spoke, her young son played with a toy car and walked down the sidewalk in halting, recently learned steps.

Beatriz said she doesn’t let him go more than a handful of steps away and just shrugged when asked if she would worry more or change her routine given the drive-by. She’s still more worried about speeding cars than bullets.

“I mean, I’ve heard gunshots before. Just not in the apartments so close.”

A leading cause

of death

Around the corner, at the building numbered 2941, the four people conversing out front were joined after a few minutes by another man coming down the stairs, a slender man tightly holding a well-used Bible.

Some in the group had been present during and immediately after the shooting but were wary of strangers asking questions and hesitant to speak freely. Bertrand Gutiérrez, a friend and former colleague who grew up speaking Spanish, bridged the language barrier and helped convince them to speak under condition of anonymity.

Of course we’re scared. There are gangs involved, they said.

One story making the rounds had it that the shooters were hiding their faces behind masks with the American flag printed on them. Another story had it that the gunfire was part of a gang initiation.

Residents described the car speeding through the complex and the sound of the shots. They pointed to a string of damage caused by bullets sprayed across the first and second stories, including a freshly cut section where police dug out a slug from the wood.

The most stunning part was that the residents and witnesses are used to hearing gunfire and not particularly surprised that a little boy had been shot. Frightened, aggrieved and angry, yes.

But not shocked.

Death by gunshot is the second-leading cause of death for children in the United States. Gunfire deaths are surpassed only by motor-vehicle crashes.

According to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, more than 1,400 children and teenagers up to age 17 die every year from gunfire. More than half are murdered. Suicide and unintentional deaths — accidents — account for the rest.

That breaks down to 21 children and teenagers who get shot every single day in this country — four of those are fatal. Every single day.

That’s heartbreaking, frightening and enraging. But by now, we — like the residents of the Cole Village Apartments — shouldn’t be surprised by that.

A 5-year-old boy, an innocent, is dead. But he’s just one of many, and it happens every damn day.

Photos: Scene of drive-by shooting

Local
Senate GOP legislative leaders try again with CON reform in House bill

Senate Republican legislative leaders are trying again to push through a limited form of certificate-of-need regulatory changes during what could be the final stage of the session.

Those leaders, including Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, applied the “gut and replace” strategy to House Bill 126 on June 27.

The bill initially was focused solely on adding human tissue as an option on state driver’s license donor listings. The bill passed the House by a 112-0 vote April 17.

The Senate Health Care stripped the donor language from the bill and inserted limited CON law exemptions that would affect psychiatric facilities, kidney disease dialysis centers, intermediate care facilities, chemical dependency treatment facilities and some continuing care retirement centers.

However, ambulatory surgical centers were not included, which have been at the heart of previous CON repeal or exemption bills in the Senate.

A CON is required before a health-care system or provider can build a facility, buy equipment or offer a surgical procedure, among other things. There are 28 health-care scenarios affected by the law, which took effect in 1978.

The primary goal is to prevent unnecessary duplication of services within a community or region as a means of controlling costs.

The inherent competitive limitations in the CON laws have helped fortify the revenue streams of not-for-profit health-care systems, such as Cone Health, Novant Health Inc. and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

The Senate version of HB126 cleared the Health Care and Rules and Operations committee. It has been placed on today’s Senate floor calendar.

“CON reform is a must in order to provide greater access to health care and reduce costs,” Krawiec said.

“Currently, the process is so onerous, cumbersome and expensive that many are restricted from the market. The changes proposed in HB126 are common sense.

“Reducing health care costs and improving access should be a first priority for all of us. I think most agree that CON reform will achieve some of that,” she said.

If the Senate passes the current version of HB126, it would be sent back to the House for approval of the gut-and-replace changes.

Given the House has been reluctant in recent years to make changes to CON laws, it’s likely the House would reject the current version of HB126. That means the two chambers could enter negotiations over the two versions of HB126 or House leadership could choose to shelve the bill for the rest of the session.

Reducing the effectiveness of the CON law “is just a difficult bill for House members to embrace, so not sure it gets much traction,” said Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth. Lambeth is a leading House health-care expert and a key House budget writer.

Opposing arguments

Krawiec said when introducing SB361 that “it’s time for us to change how restrictive North Carolina CON laws are.”

People in favor of repealing CON laws claim that adding competition, particularly from for-profit groups, would lead to the opening of a host of new services and facilities, including more acute-care hospitals, diagnostic centers and rehabilitation centers.

They say competition would force more providers to lower fees for high-risk procedures. Several cost-comparison websites have shown the costs of some of those procedures can vary by tens of thousands of dollars within a region.

“Those entities, already in the market, understandably don’t want competition,” Krawiec said. “Without competition, health care costs will continue to rise.”

CON supporters say ending the law would allow for-profit groups to cherry-pick the most profitable medical procedures, leaving not-for-profit hospitals to handle in their emergency departments more of the sickest of the sick, who often don’t have health insurance.

The N.C. Healthcare Association opposes repealing CON laws, saying they would cost thousands of health-care jobs statewide, including in rural communities. “At a time of significant change in health care in our state, we believe now is not the time to discuss changes to the law,” spokeswoman Julie Henry said.

Other bills

The makeover of HB126 comes a week after Krawiec agreed June 20 to have more extensive CON language removed via amendment in Senate Bill 361. That bill then cleared the Senate by a 48-0 vote

Krawiec said at that time the CON language “will be addressed in a separate bill.”

There are three other CON-related bills: Senate Bill 646, which would provide services exemptions from some CON regulations; Senate Bill 539, which would repeal CON laws; and House Bill 857, which creates an exemption from CON laws for ambulatory facilities.

None of those three bills has been heard in committee.

The initial version of SB361, introduced March 26, would have repealed the CON law, an effort that has been rebuffed by the House in previous legislative sessions.

A less-aggressive attempt of SB361 that would have taken steps to reform the CON laws, rather than an outright repeal, was submitted June 12.

Language creating the CON exemptions also was included in the Senate’s state budget proposal, but removed from the state budget compromise.