About 24 hours before Wednesday’s expected swearing in of a new police chief in Baldwin Park, another resident got murdered.
In a drive-by shooting to be exact. It occurred just blocks from the police department. Remarkable because it’s the city’s fifth homicide in 2008.
By comparison, at this time last year, Baldwin Park recorded just one slaying.
Welcome to Baldwin Park, “Hub City of the San Gabriel Valley.”
A stiff ocean breeze blew in from the Pacific Wednesday. Purple blossoms blew off the Jacarandas and bunched up in the gutter. Dust kicked up and made the intersection of Ramona Boulevard and Merced Avenue seem like an apparition from the Wild West.
It must have sounded like something out of a Clint Eastwood movie about 6:15 p.m. Tuesday evening.
A car with two women and a man approached the intersection from the west and stopped at the light. Another car pulled alongside. Shots rang out. Gunfire struck the man in the stopped car at least once.
By 7 p.m. he was dead and laid out on a slab in a local hospital waiting for relatives to identify him. By all accounts there was no immediate provocation for the slaying.
“But who knows what happened before?” asked Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide Lt. Dan Rosenberg.
Even so, “There were indicators to suggest there were local gangs involved,” Rosenberg said. “My guess is that when this all pans out that will be the case.”
The upswing in homicides comes as Baldwin Park is in the midst of remaking itself.
Whole blighted neighborhoods that were once filled with seedy pay-by-the-hour motels and ramshackle motor home courts have been torn down.
The fences, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers and parolees have moved on to greener pastures. Families have started taking over affordable housing options that line Ramona and Baldwin Park boulevards.
Recent news stories suggest despite resistance from longtime shop owners, at least one developer holds high hopes for plans to revitalize the city’s core via eminent domain and redevelopment.
And yet, as if they lived in a town straight out of a spaghetti western, residents still cower in fear of the gangs that seemingly run the real city.
What usually happens in those old films is that the town’s lone sheriff or marshall leaves town and is replaced by a “shoot first, ask questions later” kind of lawman.
The hired new muscle drives out the bad guys and everybody lives happily ever after.
As for the new muscle in Baldwin Park?
Her name is Lili Hadsell, but you can probably call her chief.
Hadsell, who began the year as a lieutenant, likely takes over as the county’s third female municipal police chief. After many years working for the Baldwin Park Police Department, Hadsell told reporter Amanda Baumfeld she’s ready for the challenges — even as the town’s homicide rate continues to soar and residents remain fearful.
“I am not new to the community,” Hadsell said. “Our gang unit has helped with violence and the city is not what it was like 10 years ago. It is relatively safer now. We have a stronger police presence on the street.”
In “High Plains Drifter,” a bad guy tells new sheriff Clint Eastwood: “Life here’s a little too quick … Maybe you think you’re fast enough to keep up with us, huh?”
To which Eastwood responds, “A lot faster than you’ll ever live to be.”
If only things were that simple in Baldwin Park.