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Felon who shot man at Cathedral City bar sentenced to 52 Years to life

Tomas Lucio Zaragoza
Tomas Lucio Zaragoza

A gang member who shot and seriously wounded a Cathedral City bar patron without provocation, as well as wounded another man accidentally, was sentenced today to 52 years to life in state prison.

A Murrieta jury in May convicted 40-year-old Tomas Lucio Zaragoza of Desert Hot Springs of attempted murder, firearm assault and multiple sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations for the 2017 attack on Mike Avila.

It was Zaragoza's second trial for the offenses, after a different jury in April 2021 found him guilty solely of criminal street gang activity, deadlocking on the remaining counts.

During Wednesday's sentencing hearing at the Southwest Justice Center, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer imposed the term of imprisonment required by law.

The defendant shot Avila in the hand and stomach during an argument at the former Block Sports Bar & Grill at Ramon Road and Date Palm Drive on the night of July 26, 2017. The business has since been renamed Henry's Sports Bar & Grill.

Zaragoza's co-defendants -- Andrew Monroy, 28, and Carlos Rodriguez, 30, both of Cathedral City, along with Ricky Ceballos, 30, of Desert Hot Springs -- pleaded guilty in 2020 to assault resulting in great bodily, as well as gang-related sentence-enhancing allegations. Each man was sentenced to eight years in state prison.  

According to Deputy District Attorney Jenna Barsamian, Ceballos, Monroy and Rodriguez got into an argument with Avila at the bar that led to fisticuffs. The victim was there celebrating his wife's birthday.

The prosecution said Zaragoza entered the business and immediately opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun, inadvertently shooting one patron in the foot, then intentionally wounding Avila in the upper body.  

The trouble started because the gang members perceived the victim, his wife and friends as encroaching on their turf, according to investigators.   

Witnesses told Cathedral City police that Avila yelled just before the shooting, "Hey, I don't even know who you are. I just want to leave."   

Zaragoza testified in his first trial that his gun discharged because the victim tried to grab it.  

The defendant said he was smoking outside when he heard the commotion in the bar and entered to find the victim holding a pool cue, leading Zaragoza to join his fellow gang members, brandishing a handgun to scare Avila. But the defendant claimed that the victim then went for the gun, causing it to discharge.

All of the defendants fled but were apprehended at a Banning gas station two days later.  

Avila underwent multiple surgeries and was hospitalized for several months before recovering, according to trial testimony.   

Court records show that Zaragoza had prior felony convictions for domestic assault and theft.

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Article Topic Follows: Crime

City News Service


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