Shirley Tucker knew something was terribly wrong when she saw her son's car on the late-night news, surrounded by police officers.

The Vallejo mother of five tried his cell phone but he didn't answer. A call to the highway patrol confirmed her worst fears — Dewey Tucker, 24, had been killed while driving Interstate 80, shot dead, allegedly by suspected Santa Rosa gang members.

"The police had his phone," Tucker said Thursday outside a Santa Rosa courtroom, where four men accused in his slaying awaited a hearing. "It was ringing. But they couldn't answer it because it was locked."

CHP investigators were initially stumped by the Jan. 12, 2010 killing. Their break came almost a year later when an accused Santa Rosa gang member was arrested in a fatal stabbing at Kawana Elementary School. Raul Vega, 20, is suspected of killing Juan Carlos Angel-Esparza, also 20, on Jan. 8.

With information that has not yet been released, authorities were able to link Vega and three other men — Christopher Mancinas and Hector Barragan, both 29, and Javier Ivan Lopez-Carreon, 20, all of Santa Rosa, to the Tucker slaying.

According to charging documents, the four sureno gang members traveled to Contra Costa County after learning of a threat from rivals. They mistakenly targeted Tucker, a professional musician who played bass for singer Lauryn Hill.

He was killed by a gunshot wound to the head police said was fired by Vega.

Now, both cases are being tried together by Sonoma County prosecutors. Family members, law enforcement from multiple jurisdictions and even possible witnesses packed Judge Arthur Wick's courtroom Thursday for a preliminary hearing.

But it was postponed until July 14 after Barragan's new lawyer asked for more time to prepare.

Family of Angel-Esparza, some wearing white shirts bearing his portrait, said they were frustrated by the delay. His girlfriend, Elisha Donohue of Santa Rosa, said she had to take time off work and get a baby sitter.

"I didn't get any sleep last night," she said in the hallway. "I'm nervous."

And Maria Angel said it was difficult to again face her brother's alleged killers, who appeared in jailhouse uniforms.

But Angel-Esparza's cousin, Mariana Esparza, said it is better that the defendants are ready so they don't have grounds for any appeal.

Shirley Tucker said she expected the delay. She and her husband, Danny Tucker, and sister Charlene Martin, made the trip over from Vallejo on the chance it might go forward.

Tucker described her son as something of a musical prodigy who started playing the keyboards at age 3. The Bethel High graduate later won a $25,000 prize for playing the congas in a Quaker Oats competition. He worked with R&B singer Bobby Brown before touring Europe with Grammy Award winner Hill.

She said the family has confidence in Sonoma County prosecutors and hopes her son's killers will be convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

"That's what I think would be justice," said Martin, the aunt. "I know Dewey is in a better place now."