Updated: April 26, 2010 at 12:00 am
A 62-year-old man died after being shot Sunday night in a parking lot that has been dark since the city turned off the streetlight in a controversial money saving measure, a neighboring business owner said.
Gaspar Martinez, owner of Ruskin Liquor near Airport Road and Academy Boulevard, blamed growing violence in the area — and the city turning off the streetlight in front of the business — for the man’s death during an attempted robbery.
Martinez identified the victim as Esteban Garcia, the father of Saul Garcia, owner of El Ranchito, a market and taqueria at 3970 Airport Road in southeast Colorado Springs. Police spokesman Sgt. Steve Noblitt would not confirm the victim's identity.
According to the online police report, the shooting happened about 10:20 p.m. Sunday outside El Ranchito, where the victim worked. The police report said the victim was targeted by the attacker, but did not elaborate. The employee was found in the parking lot with several gunshot wounds and died later at a hospital. The El Paso County Coroner’s Office will conduct an autopsy. If his death is ruled a homicide, it will be the sixth this year in the city.
Martinez said Garcia, who was shot just after he had closed up the business, was walking to his car with other employees when a robber approached him and demanded money. Garcia didn’t have money, and the robber shot him, Martinez said.
The area has become more dangerous, Martinez said, since he opened his business about 10 years ago. On April 12, an 18-year-old was shot and killed just blocks away in what investigators said appeared to be a gang-related shootout in the street.
Martinez said his worries have increased since the city shut off the streetlight in front of the small strip mall in which El Ranchito and Ruskin Liquor are located. Since then, he said, he’s noticed people gathering beneath the darkened light. “Being that it’s dark, people think they can do whatever they want,” Martinez said. “People who do crime are noticing it’s dark out there.”
The killing came a day before Colorado Springs City Councilman Sean Paige questioned in an e-mail why streetlights throughout the city had been turned off to save money while the affluent Old North End neighborhood had been spared and still had all its streetlights.
“To what degree light was a factor in this particular crime, I couldn’t comment on that other than to say we’re working hard to try to turn off the streetlights in an effective, efficient and safe manner,” said John Leavitt, a city spokesman.
Representatives from the Colorado Springs Police Department, Colorado Springs Fire Department, Colorado Springs Utilities and the city’s traffic division served on a task force that decided which lights were expendable. So far, about 8,000 lights have been turned off, and the city hopes to turn off an additional 2,000. In all, the city expects to save $1.2 million this year in energy and maintenance costs.
He said roughly 500 people have asked the city to reconsider and turn a streetlight back on. An additional 520 streetlights have been adopted by residents who pay the cost of keeping them on.
El Ranchito was closed Monday, and people who answered the phone at Saul Garcia’s home said the family did not want to comment.
Gazette reporter Jakob Rodgers contributed to this report.