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Paths cross, family mourns

Candelario and Virginia Lagunes had been married more than 30 years.

GEN YAMAGUCHI | Times

Candelario and Virginia Lagunes had been married more than 30 years.

PLANT CITY — Virginia Lagunes sat unsmiling Saturday near a table spread with candles and flowers in memory of her late husband, killed Friday in the crossfire between a suspect and deputies.

She and Candelario Lagunes had been married more than 30 years. She's the matriarch of the close-knit family that filled her Plant City living room, spilling out onto the porch and driveway.

But the family is still not sure what it'll do without its patriarch, the man who taught the members to work hard and treat people with respect. He leaves behind Virginia, their three children and four grandchildren.

"The only thing to do is stay close, now more than ever," said Elda Lagunes, one of his daughters-in-law.

A stray bullet from the assault rifle wielded by Fransisco Rangel, a suspect in a slaying, struck Lagunes in the head as he sat in the passenger seat of the family Volkswagen Jetta, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office reported.

The 58-year-old laidoff electrical worker died soon after at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. He had been on his way to an automated teller machine near his home as deputies chased Rangel north on J.L. Redman Parkway.

Mario Lagunes, 30, says he wants to share his father's story so children can appreciate their parents before it's too late. He appreciated his father every day, buying the house next door and hugging and kissing him, telling him he loved him.

Candelario Lagunes had hoped to someday open a restaurant in Plant City. He and his wife had owned a small restaurant in Mexico before they moved to the United States 16 years ago, Mario Lagunes said.

He had been planning to start a concession-type restaurant with his sons. His younger son, Henry Lagunes, already had a trailer so they could sell tacos to the Hispanic community, Mario Lagunes said.

On Friday, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott visited the Laguneses' house with police Chief Bill McDaniel to offer their condolences. Lott pledged to help the family in any way he could to get the necessary licenses to start their business, Mario Lagunes said.

"He told us anything we need, to tell him and he would try to help — always by the rules, but he'd help us out," Lagunes said. "He was really nice."

Lagunes isn't blaming law enforcement for his father's death, even though five deputies were chasing Rangel when he stopped and shot about 20 rounds.

And the Sheriff's Office is maintaining that it did the right thing.

"This was a very dangerous individual," spokeswoman Debbie Carter said. "He had already killed one person, attempted to kill another person, and he needed to be off the street."

• • •

Rangel, 25, is suspected in the fatal shooting of Plant City resident Michael Longoria Thursday, and the wounding of a second man.

On Friday, deputies sent to arrest Rangel encountered him as he was driving, and a chase began. About 9:15 a.m., Rangel stopped near Strawberry Plaza and opened fire, killing Lagunes and getting away, according to the Sheriff's Office.

None of the deputies were injured, and after about a seven-hour hunt through residential Plant City, Rangel was caught. He is being held in the Orient Road Jail without bail.

Carter confirmed that Rangel is a member of the Sur 13 gang, a Latino gang prominent in Plant City, Dover and West Tampa.

Sheriff David Gee said tattoos led deputies to believe he was a gang member, and Carter said, "Everything that we've done in the investigation leads us to believe he was a Sur 13 member."

Sur is Spanish for "south." Sur 13 originated in the street gangs of Southern California. The number 13 indicates the 13th letter of the alphabet: M, short for Mexican Mafia prison organization, with which Sur 13 is affiliated.

Gee announced in 2006 that the gang had a growing local influence. Its graffiti pops up on the outskirts of Plant City.

The gang played a part in an attempted murder last month in Tampa. Three people identified as Sur 13 gang members attacked two men with glass bottles and a machete, shouting "Sur 13!" and "We're going to take you out!" a witness said.

Investigators still aren't sure of the motive behind Thursday's shooting, which left Michael Longoria, 36, of Plant City, dead. Rangel also is suspected in the shooting of another man, who is in a hospital and will likely survive, Carter said. Deputies haven't released his name.

Longoria's mother said she doesn't believe her son was a member of any gangs. Lupe Williams, 63, met Rangel recently, but she doesn't think he was a close friend of her son's. She has no idea why he would have shot Longoria, who left behind five children, ages 14, 11, 9, 7 and 3.

Longoria grew up in a migrant family that worked in the fields from North Carolina to Florida until settling in Plant City in the early 1990s, Williams said. Longoria got his high school diploma, even though it was tough going to school while working, she said. "He was a hard worker," she said.

Longoria has a long list of arrests, mostly drug-related, and a one-year prison stay in 2004. His mother conceded he sometimes got into trouble because "he'd hang out with some of the wrong people," but she insisted he was good at heart.

Now, her son won't pop over for dinner anymore, and she won't be able to do his laundry, which she did even though he didn't live with her. "He's my baby, so I never cared," she said.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Paths cross, family mourns 12/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 10:37pm]

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