By RYAN PFEIL
Police are on the hunt for a 15-year-old boy whom investigators have identified as the alleged shooter in a May 7 drive-by shooting in west Medford.
Santiago Loveland-Flores, of the 900 block of Murray Avenue, is alleged to have fired several shots during an altercation at around 8:20 p.m. near the intersection of Benson Street and Dakota Avenue. Based on witness accounts, three shots rang out before a truck sped away. No one was hurt.
“Through the investigation we did positively I.D. him,” Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said. “He is our shooter and we have probable cause for arrest.”
Officers have fanned out across the neighborhood, paying visits to more than 50 houses to try to find Loveland-Flores.
“He knows we’re looking for him, and he’s been elusive,” Budreau said. “I think it’s just a matter of time before he’s caught.”
The photo provided by law enforcement is from South Medford High, police said, but it’s not confirmed whether Loveland-Flores is still enrolled there.
Loveland-Flores is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call Medford police at 541-770-4783. Anyone who spots Loveland-Flores should call 911, as he is considered armed and dangerous, police said.
Though Loveland-Flores is a minor, the Mail Tribune is printing his name and photo because of the seriousness of the allegations against him and because of the potential threat of harm to the public.
Loveland-Flores has been on probation since December 2011 for disorderly conduct and theft charges, according to Jackson County Community Justice’s Juvenile Services. He also recently pleaded guilty to a third-degree assault charge, officials said.
“He’s pending sentencing on that one,” Deputy Director Joe Ferguson said.
Kids Unlimited Executive Director Tom Cole said Loveland-Flores participated in a cooperative basketball program overseen by KU and Medford Rogue Rotary members for three years.
“This is horrific to hear that this is where this young man has ended up at,” Cole said.
Attempts to contact Loveland-Flores’ family members at their home were unsuccessful Tuesday. County records show the Flores family has owned the home since late 1995.
It’s not uncommon for teens to be recruited by gangs because of their age, officials said.
“The idea is that they don’t face the stiff kind of consequences adults might face,” said Phil Ortega, safe-schools coordinator with the Eagle Point School District who works with at-risk youth. He said many teens don’t know that’s a misconception.
He believes Jackson County police agencies should get the word out that punishment can be just as harsh with youth because of Measure 11, which imposes mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes — including serious crimes committed by minors 15 and older.
“How often are our kids taught the consequences? How is that message conveyed to kids?” Ortega said.
Police believe the shooting is part of an ongoing feud between the Sureños and Norteños gangs. Budreau said investigators learned through interviews that the latest altercation started “with looks” between two groups. It grew to a verbal argument, and a bottle was thrown. Eventually Loveland-Flores fired the shots, police said.
“It basically went from an eye-staring contest,” Budreau said, adding it’s difficult to know whether the actual shooting was part of an initiation.
This is the third drive-by shooting in west Medford this year. On Feb. 20, gunfire from a Jeep Cherokee shattered a window of a home at the corner of Summit Avenue and West Main Street. Witnesses reported that two males inside the older, maroon Jeep Cherokee talked to a man walking on West Main Street, then started firing. No one was injured and the man shot at hasn’t been located. The Jeep was seized Feb. 21 at a home in the 100 block of Elm Street.
On March 8, on Bryant Street, a single shot was fired from an early 2000s silver Honda Civic sedan, which appeared to be filled with young men in their early 20s. Police suspect it was a warning shot fired at a rival gang member who hasn’t been identified. No one was injured and police dug the bullet out of the ground where it lodged. The suspects’ vehicle was last seen speeding away on Columbus Avenue.
Budreau said that neighborhood sees one of the highest emergency call volumes in the city.
Police last week arrested a 16-year-old suspected of being the truck’s driver in the latest drive-by shooting. He was lodged at the Jackson County Juvenile Detention Center on charges of attempted first-degree assault, unlawful use of a weapon, and reckless endangerment.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.