Shootings bookend bloody weekend


More violence erupted in both Kingsbridge and University Heights, where a pair of homicides made for a bloody Labor Day weekend that might otherwise have marked the peaceful end to a sweltering summer.

The weekend’s shootings boosted the number of homicides in the 50th Precinct this year to five, outpacing last year’s reported three.

The mayhem started early Friday, a little after midnight, when police responded to a call about a man shot near West 238th Street and Broadway. There they found a 22-year-old Nicolas Vargas Jr., who lived on East 14th Street, near Manhattan’s East Village, inside a vehicle with a gunshot wound to the head.

Vargas was rushed to Allen Hospital, where he later died.

Arrested in connection with the shooting was Andy Lora-Soto, 20, of 244 W. 232nd St., who was charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, and criminal possession of a weapon.

Police spent the weekend looking to find two women they say they spotted with the suspect prior to the shooting, and who ran from the crime scene afterward. Officials haven’t provided any details about the women, but did offer photographs and security camera footage.

Details on what lead to the shooting also remain sketchy, but Vargas reportedly was involved in a dispute with at least two other people. A passenger who was with Vargas in what published reports described as a black Honda tried to drive away, but hit the brakes just a few blocks from the crime scene.

One of the people in the car — it wasn’t clear whether it was Vargas or another person — recognized a small entourage near the Kingsbridge IHOP on Broadway, 50th Precinct deputy inspector Terence O’Toole said, which led to a dispute.

Vargas “stopped the car, I guess to challenge somebody or to threaten somebody, and one of the parties standing on the corner just took out a gun and fired a round at him,” O’Toole said. “It was, apparently, an extremely lucky shot. It hit him in the head, and unfortunately, killed him almost right away.”

Another person riding in the car put it into gear and drove in the direction of the 50th Precinct, O’Toole said, ultimately stopping near the McDonald’s on Broadway. That’s where officers found at least three people in the car, O’Toole said — Vargas and at least two others, believed to be his cousins.

Witnesses from the shooting — two women, O’Toole said — were able to identify the person they say fired the shot, who was arrested Saturday, O’Toole said.

“The family is going through a really hard time right now,” said Tabitha Vargas, who identified herself as sister to Vargas, but otherwise declined to comment.

Vargas was “a wonderful father of two beautiful kids and one on the way, a beloved boyfriend, a great son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin and so much more,” wrote Nautica Vargas, who identified herself as his younger cousin, on a site raising money for the family. “He didn’t deserve this and had so much life left to him, so much to give. Nobody deserves this. This is so unexpected and heartbreaking.”

But the long weekend didn’t just start with gun violence. It ended with it, too.

Police were called to 124 Eames Place just before 9:30 Monday night, where they found Christopher Pierce, 34, with a gunshot wound to his upper torso near his right shoulder blade, not far from his Webb Avenue home. Pierce was taken to Saint Barnabas Hospital on Third Avenue, where he died.

No arrests have been made, police said.

“It’s very, very sketchy right now,” O’Toole said. Residents reportedly were enjoying a barbecue when a person strolled south onto Webb Avenue, may have gotten into an argument with Pierce, fired a couple of shots at him, before taking off.

O’Toole surmises the shooter may have known Pierce and lived in the neighborhood.

The weekend of violence wasn’t the precinct’s first this year. On April 13, police were called to 2829 Sedgwick Ave., to find a man with stab wounds to his thigh. He ultimately succumbed to his injuries.

That same weekend, two men were shot at 5240 Broadway. One, identified as 30-year-old Keith Bailey, died.

Then, as violence laid siege to other parts of the borough during the summer, it finally caught up to the 5-0 in July, when a Connecticut man was arrested in the murder of Juan Flores at 2856 Webb Ave. — a shotgun slaying reportedly involving a jilted lover, an ex-girlfriend, and a dog that was said to have belonged to the alleged shooter.

The area around Kingsbridge Heights where Monday’s shooting occurred and where Flores was gunned down is known as one of the more crime-prone spots in an otherwise less violent precinct, O’Toole said, particularly around Eames Place and Webb Avenue, where there’s been, inexplicably, a history of shootings dating back around 20 years.

“We’re putting up as many cameras as we can,” O’Toole said. “They don’t replace police officers, but they help us apprehend people.”

But even paying close attention to Kingsbridge Heights, no amount of policing or cameras can completely eradicate all violence, O’Toole said.

“If (a person’s) mindset is to cause violence or kill somebody or injure somebody,” he said, “it’s a high likelihood they’re going to do that.”