August 8, 2008 - 12:49PM
Authorities urge anyone with information on this case to contact the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office at (956) 383-8114.
EDINBURG -- An ongoing fight between two Mexican crime families led to a toddler's fatal shooting south of Edinburg last month, Hidalgo County sheriff's investigators said.
Authorities charged one man Friday with capital murder in the death of 3-year-old Yaritza Garabay but said the dispute that ended in her death has links to another local shooting in May and extends back several years.
"This child was just caught up in a drug-related feud," Sheriff Lupe Treviño said. "We have reason to believe that (the families) have an ongoing dispute that's been running since 2003."
Deputies found the critically injured Yaritza just before 10:30 p.m. July 30 near the intersection of Sugar and Owassa roads.
Her father, Amador Garabay, told investigators at least two Hispanic men driving a 1999 Ford Taurus cut off his family's vehicle and shot 17 bullets into their car.
Garabay and his wife ducked to avoid the volley, but Yaritza and a 17-year-old cousin were injured in the attack.
The teen was treated and released from the hospital that same night, but a bullet wound to Yaritza's brain proved too much for the toddler to recover from. She died two days later.
Investigators later found the Taurus described by Garabay abandoned at an impound lot in Hidalgo.
After tracing its plates, they linked the car to two men now suspected in the crime -- Favio Jesus Chipres Torres, 31, and Dimas Daniel Gonzalez Zamora, 21.
Mexican authorities arrested Gonzalez on Thursday as he left a bus station in Reynosa. He was handed over to sheriff's deputies later that afternoon.
Gonzalez told investigators he had driven the Taurus the night of the attack on the Garabay family, according to a criminal complaint filed in his case. He also implicated three others -- including Chipres -- in the actual shooting,
All four were employed by the Mendoza criminal organization, a family allegedly involved in drug smuggling operations in Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley.
The Mendozas purportedly ordered a hit on Amador Garabay last month, days after a Garabay family associate opened fire at a cockfight near the intersection of 5 1/2 Mile Line and Western Road in Alton. That shooting left a key Mendoza family member injured, authorities said.
"We believe (they) came to Hidalgo County for the sole purpose of assassinating Mr. Garabay," Sheriff Treviño said.
But Gonzalez and his alleged accomplices missed their intended target, instead hitting the 3-year-old Yaritza.
Although the cockfight shooting immediately prompted the latest incident between the Mendoza and Garabay families, the bad blood that led to the toddler's death began years before her birth and hundreds of miles away.
In September 2003, four men killed Rigoberto Mendoza Orozco -- a top Gulf Cartel lieutenant -- at a safe house in Mexico's Michoacán state. Another member of the Mendoza family also died in that attack.
Authorities in Mexico linked the slayings to a struggle for dominance in the region between the Gulf Cartel and a rival group. But sheriff's deputies now suspect the Garabay family may have played a role in that struggle.
Although the Mendozas and Garabays have now spread their alleged criminal influence into the Valley, Treviño said Friday that his investigators were only interested in solving Yaritza's slaying for now.
"Our focus of the investigation is to arrest those responsible for the death of this child," he said. "If we come across any allegations of other criminal activity, we will investigate that separately or hand it over to the appropriate authorities."
Gonzalez, the alleged driver in the July 30 attack, was arraigned on capital murder charges Friday. He remains in the Hidalgo County Jail on a $1 million bond. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison or the death penalty.
Investigators continue to search for Chipres and two other suspected accomplices known only as Liz and Jorge. All are believed to be in Mexico.
Jeremy Roebuck covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4437.