Preliminary Hearing Begins for Three Accused in January 2022 Shooting Death of 14-Year-Old

San Diego Police shooting Mount Hope
Erick Balanzar. Photo credit: Screen shot, GoFundMe.com

 A hearing began Monday to determine whether three young men accused of taking part in the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy in the Mount Hope neighborhood should stand trial on a murder charge.

Bryan Escobedo, 20, Ethan Peaslee-Guerrero, 21, and Omar Morales, 19, are charged in the Jan. 31, 2022, slaying of Erick Balanzar, who was shot around 4:15 p.m. on 36th Street, near J Street.

Prosecutors allege the defendants, who were 18 and 19 years old at the time of the shooting, were in an SUV when a co-defendant fired one round from the front passenger seat at Balanzar, who was riding a skateboard on 36th Street. Balanzar was taken to a hospital, where he died.

The alleged shooter was 17 years old at the time and is being tried as a juvenile. Peaslee-Guerrero was driving the SUV, while Escobedo, Morales, and another 17-year-old boy were backseat passengers, according to prosecutors.

According to testimony, the shooting was both gang-related and a retaliatory attack. The defendants allegedly believed Balanzar was one of several people who assaulted a friend of theirs three days before the fatal shooting.

Last year, San Diego police Lt. Jud Campbell said that after the shooting, someone reported the suspects’ license plate to police.

Campbell said the license plate was traced to a Toyota Highlander that was spotted earlier that day at a fight attended by a large crowd at the San Diego City College trolley stop.

At around 3:35 p.m., San Diego Unified school police requested SDPD assistance in responding to the fight, at which point, “some of the members of the crowd left in the silver Toyota Highlander,” Campbell said.

Less than an hour after the shooting, the suspects’ SUV  was located at 4600 Utah St., with Escobedo, Peaslee-Guerrero, Morales, and a 17-year-old boy near the vehicle, according to the lieutenant.

When officers approached, two of the suspects ran and two were detained, Campbell said, with the runners eventually located in a nearby apartment and taken into custody.

The alleged shooter was arrested a few days later.

The preliminary hearing is expected to last through Wednesday or Thursday.