A brother's hunch helps lead to an arrest in a Venice killing
As soon as Antonio Gonzalez heard that his younger brother was dead, he had a feeling that someone had hurt him.
Gonzalez, 54, got the call about 2 a.m. on a Sunday last month from a social worker from Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. She gave him the bad news, but didn't say how Jose Gonzalez, 51, had died on a Venice street. The woman told him to talk to the paramedics, who were treating it as an accident.
"I had a feeling that someone did something to him," Antonio said. "He was too happy, too healthy."
Jose had some problems in his life. In 1994, he was hit by a car and although his limbs were intact, he was left mentally slower and couldn't work. After the accident, the two brothers made a 1,600-mile pilgrimage to Jalisco, Mexico, to see the Virgin Mary, because it was a miracle that Jose survived, Antonio said.
Jose was kicked out of an apartment in January and began living in a van and spending his time on the streets. Jose often hung out near Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice and near a laundromat in Culver City. But he was never too far from his family. He kept in touch and saw either his sister or brother daily.
On the day he died, Jose had biked to his brother's food truck, which is usually parked off 4th and Rose avenues in Venice, and ate tacos with his older sibling. He was in good spirits, Antonio said. About 9 p.m., Antonio was pumping gas when his brother rode by on his purple bike. They joked about the bike and Jose went on his way.
Haunted by his belief that his brother had been a victim of foul play, Antonio took on the role of amateur detective and set out to find out the truth.
After Antonio went to the hospital to try to see his brother one last time, he visited the fire station and spoke with a captain, who said that his brother had been given CPR on the way to the hospital. Antonio also learned a crucial detail: His brother was with another man when he was found off Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
Armed with a simple description — a white man in his 40s or 50s with a beard and a baseball cap — Antonio took to the streets. He walked up and down Abbot Kinney and spoke with people in the area. A homeless man told Antonio that a man who matched that description usually hung out near a certain bench.
Antonio and his daughter called the police about their suspicions, and officers accompanied him to see the man, who was now riding his brother's purple bike. The man told Antonio that Jose had fallen off his bike and hit his head.
Unsatisfied with the man's story, Antonio and his family once again reached out to the police.
LAPD Dets. Dave Vinton and George Bowens were assigned to the case. They pulled videos from nearby surveillance cameras. After watching it, he said, they believed that a crime had been committed.
Jose was standing outside a liquor store with another man about 10:30 p.m. when the man assaulted him.
"He threw a haymaker and punched him on the right side of his head," Bowens said.
The video showed that the man left Jose on the ground, Bowens said. None of the people who were in the area called about what they saw. About two hours later, the man came back and asked people in the area to call 911, Bowens said.
On April 30, police arrested Thomas Glover, 50, on suspicion of killing Jose. He is facing a murder charge and is due in court Monday.
Without Antonio Gonzalez's suspicions, Bowens said, the police might have never pursued the case.
Antonio said he is happy that Glover was arrested. But Antonio wishes he could have been there when Jose was assaulted.
"I used to always protect him," he said. "That day, I couldn't protect him."
Photo: Jose Gonzalez was the victim of an assault, police say. A suspect has been charged.