Four days after 23-year-old Oscar Valencia was shot in the head Saturday morning, the man accused of killing him been charged with murder and his grieving family struggles to understand how an apparent misunderstanding turned deadly.
Valencia, his older brother Jaime and two friends were sitting in a car outside a house near Cumberland Street and Homestead Lane around 2 a.m. as they waited to meet up with some girls they had met clubbing that night.
As they were waiting, a van suddenly pulled up close to their car at an odd angle, its bright lights flooding the interior and disorienting the occupants, Jaime Valencia recalled.
"It seemed like he was looking for trouble," Valencia said.
The man in the van seemed to be saying something to someone in the car, but it wasn't clear who he was talking to or about what, he said.
Oscar Valencia, tall and athletic, got out of the car and exchanged words with the van driver, asking him what his problem was, as the others tried to defuse the situation, Jaime Valencia said. Just as everyone seemed to realize that man knew one of the car's occupants and a misunderstanding had occurred, he walked off, leaving his van with in the middle of the street.
The man then emerged from a nearby house carrying a gun, Valencia said.
He waved it around briefly, trained it on Oscar Valencia, and shot him in the face, his brother said.
"Honestly, I thought I was next," said Valencia, 30.
The suspected shooter, Latroy Denard Clinton Sr., 39, appeared in court Tuesday where he was arraigned on a murder charge.
Police said the two exchanged words in what appeared to be a random encounter and Clinton shot Valencia with a large-caliber handgun.
Clinton was arrested the same day in Marin County after a chase with police along Highway 101. He also was charged with being a felon in possession of a gun and evading police.
He is set to enter a plea on July 14.
Valencia's cousin, Jessica Torres, 22, said his parents were devastated and "just trying to stay strong," she said.
Valencia was "at the wrong place at the wrong time," she said.
Family members described Oscar Valencia as a helpful son and a thoughtful sibling who wasn't into gangs or drugs and was getting his life together.
He had a job at a local winery, had recently received his green card, was studying to get his GED, and had just received thousands of dollars more than he expected from an insurance company after his car was wrecked.
"This was just the best year for him," said his sister, Zoila Richardson of Novato.
A steady stream of family members and cousins visited the family home in northwest Santa Rosa Wednesday. Flowers lined the living room adorned with photos of Valencia.
His mother burst into tears describing the various ways her son helped her and showed his affection.
Valencia's cousin, Jessica Torres, 22, described him as a "goofy" music lover who would be the one to step up when cumbia music moved her to get up and dance.
"I'd always ask my uncles dance with me dance with me, everybody would tell me no. And when I'd get to Oscar he'd say, &‘Alright.' He never told me no," she said.
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