Happy Balloons and Homicide 

Entering the dangerous world of flier parties

Thursday, Dec 2 2004

On a recent Saturday night, the "party car" gets word from an undercover officer that a flier party with local gang members attending is about to start on Norris Avenue in Pacoima. Foothill Division Senior Lead Officer Jose Torres, who coordinates the Friday- and Saturday-night party detail, is worried because the house is located on Pacoima Blood gang turf.

Within 15 minutes of getting the call, Torres and five other officers pull up to a rented white bungalow. Teenagers are milling about on the front lawn and the street. They scatter when they see the cruisers roll up. Hip-hop music and loud voices blast from the backyard. The six officers walk to the side gate leading to the backyard party and tell the more than 250 partiers, most of whom are Latino and in their teens, to disperse. After a few minutes, the kids begrudgingly file past the officers. A teenager complains about losing his $5 entrance fee. The officers continue to the backyard, which is completely dark except for the white Christmas lights around the DJ’s amplifiers and turntables. The cops tell the DJ to pack it up. A handful of stragglers attempt to jump the back fence, but the officers corral them through the side gate. Bottles of beer are scattered on the grass.

Also in this issue:
These Are the People Who Died
2004 flier-party body count
by Christine Pelisek

One of the partiers, 26-year-old Hector, says he goes to flier parties a lot, since he can’t get into bars because, as a resident of Mexico, he isn’t eligible for a California ID. His friend Ricardo, the busted party’s DJ, throws parties every weekend in the San Fernando Valley. Word of this party, says Hector, spread from fliers passed out at San Fernando High School.

Officer Torres explains to Hector how dangerous these parties can be. His words fall on deaf ears.

"We will see you next time?" asks Torres.

"I guess you will," laughs Hector.

This type of intervention is relatively new. Last May, LAPD’s Foothill Division, which patrols the Northeast San Fernando Valley neighborhoods of Sylmar, Pacoima, Arleta, Mission Hills, Sunland, Tujunga, Shadow Hills, Sun Valley, La Tuna Canyon and Lakeview Terrace, started a party-suppression detail, made up of overtime and reserve officers, in the hope of stemming the tide of flier-party violence that has spiked dramatically over the past year. As if to confirm the need for the detail, 27-year-old Antonio Vasquez and 23-year-old Hector Villareal, both DJ assistants, were gunned down by alleged gang members at a Sylmar party attended by hundreds of Sylmar High School students the very weekend the initiative was inaugurated.

Since its inception, LAPD officials said, the "party car" broke up an average of five parties a night. But its winning streak came to an end on October 24, when Peter Cobian was shot dead, also in Sylmar.

"They were on their way when the homicide occurred," said Foothill Division’s Sergeant Jay Roberts.

Peter Cobian’s demise has become all too familiar — a young man looking for fun ends up on the wrong end of a gun. If he hadn’t been stood up, he might still be here. He’d planned to play pool with his neighbors, but by 9:30 p.m., the 6-foot-7-inch salesman hadn’t heard from his friends. When three of his co-workers pulled up at his house in Highland Park and invited him to a pre-Halloween bash in Sylmar, Cobian, 24, decided to tag along. It was Saturday night, after all, and, like most single men his age, he wanted to have fun. The flier advertising the party promised half-price drinks, indoor/outdoor partying, Jell-O shots, happy balloons (nitrous oxide) and DJs playing all the best music.

Cobian, a Los Angeles native, drove in his 1994 gray Integra with a friend while his other two friends followed behind. The night was still pretty young by the time they arrived at 12866 Newton St., a vacant single-family home on a mostly Latino residential street near the 210 freeway that the party organizers had secretly secured. The group paid their $3 fee and entered a space barren, save for the Halloween decorations hanging from the ceilings and walls. The Secret Society, the party crew hosting the bash, was selling drink tickets. Beer was $2.

The party, which started around 8 p.m., was an eclectic cross section of young Los Angeles. Partiers ranged from local high school kids to young suburban professionals. The one thing they had in common was that they had managed to navigate their way through the secret codes and cues of the latest flier party and had found themselves here. By the end of the night, they would have another thing in common: This party, like so many others over the past year, would end in bloodshed and violence.

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