Last weekend, I got a text that I had been wishing to get for years: Nick was finally able to tell the story of Rogelio.
Short version of it: Rogelio Vasquez Solis has spent the past three decades in state prison for throwing a dirt clod at cars speeding at him and his friends in 1993 in the parking lot of Calafia Beach Park in San Clemente. The other guys he was with threw other things at the car — one of them was a paint roller that went through the head of 17-year-old Steve Woods.
Law enforcement officials initially called Woods’ death a “fluke” and a “one-in-a-million chance” accident. That’s when Orange County came in and turned this tragedy into a group of rampaging Mexican cholos terrorizing sweet suburban American kids.
This case was the fuel that set California’s anti-immigrant lunatics on fire and created Proposition 187, which eventually led to Donald Trump taking the White House. The guy who threw the paint roller that killed Woods was freed long ago, as is everyone else involved — except Rogelio, who you’ll remember threw a dirt clod.
He was 17 when it happened, and was tried as an adult. When he was finally convicted in 1996, a judge sentenced him to 15-to-life, even though two other people with him were tried as juveniles.
Rogelio is up for parole this summer. He’s been rejected every time he’s been up for it.
Nick wrote Rogelio’s story for Red Canary Collective, run by the great Joe Donnelly. Nick, of course, is Nick Schou, my longtime colleague at the infernal rag. He did a great job, a job that took five years — but this canto is only partly a plug for his hard work.
Read his story NOW.
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Nick first covered the Woods killing as a cub reporter back in 1995, as the criminal cases around it wound their way through Orange County’s judicial system and toxic politics. I first learned about the case when I joined the paper, but didn’t know the particulars.
Everything changed when Donald Trump’s Phoenix speech about building a wall happened in the summer of 2016, and the mother of Steve Woods spoke in support. She was wrong to blame her son’s death on illegal immigration, and Nick wrote as much in a short article.
The level of blowback we received from people in San Clemente over that was like little we had ever experienced – and remember, we loved to make sport of Huntington Beach. That’s when I told Nick we needed to revisit this case — and that’s how we found out Rogelio was still incarcerated, an outrage that the legendary writer Mike Davis called a “legal lynching” over 20 years ago.
Nick began tracking down the people who were there the night of Woods’ death. Family members of Rogelio. He got thousands of pages of court documents from a lawyer who had kept them in storage for decades.
The plan was for Nick to write a long piece that would reintroduce the world to Rogelio’s predicament.
That was the plan.
By mid 2017, I knew that my time at the infernal rag was going to end sooner rather than later. Nick and my wife were the only people who knew of my wars with the idiot owner of the infernal rag. So I told Nick to focus on doing Rogelio’s story, while he had the time and support of someone above him.
He tried, but it just couldn’t happen.
I left the infernal rag, and he was put in a thankless role that took him away from writing about Rogelio. Nick stayed in it until 2019. He tried to pitch Rogelio’s story to multiple publications; all stupidly passed. Nick’s eventual job had nothing to do with Orange County, so he couldn’t tell Rogelio’s story.
But it was something he and I would talk about any time we would catch up. Nick would express regret that he didn’t heed my call to tell Rogelio’s story at the infernal rag while he had the chance, but I said his day would come.
It finally did. READ HIS STORY NOW.
And then read this: do what you need to do when you have the time, because you never know when you’re going to have the time again. Five years later, Nick was finally able to tell Rogelio’s story, and he’s just grateful to have had someone as smart as Joe Donnelly to publish it.
Don’t assume time’s going to wait for you. And don’t think it’ll swoop back for you after it passes you buy.
So go do what you need to do right now. Who knows what’s going to happen to Ukraine – so why wait?
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
Especially as I have been going to shows lately in Stanton, what is your opinion on lucha libre? If you’ve opined on it, I’ve missed it. When I moved to LA as a kid in the ’80s, it was one of the first things I latched on to. I love that it’s still going all over the SoCal area. And yes, in the OC. Are you a fan?
The first-ever big story I did was on the lucha libre matches that used to happen at the Anaheim Indoor Swap Meet — this goes back to 2001. OF COURSE I love it — but I don’t have the time to go to matches or follow the sport. And nor do I call Orange County the OC — and neither should you!
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Volunteer calendulas growing from the gravel at Puppy Strong Farms.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Don’t fight them. Don’t waste your time struggling with them and trying to make sense to them. They’ll never understand.”
LISTENING:“Coplas A Huetamo,” Trio Tariácuri. This is why you gotta tune into GAG: Someone asked about Michoacán, and I shouted out Amalia Mendoza, La Tariácuri, then shouted out the group of her brothers, which went by the same name — but I kept butchering the name because I don’t speak Purépecha, you know? As penance, here’s their son calentano about their hometown in la Tierra Caliente. Sácale chispas ALWAYS.
READING: “Humble suckers: Pacific lamprey have survived 5 mass extinctions but are now under threat”: I tend to stay away from climate-change stories because they’re all the same depressing cant — but this one was informative, long-view AND brought on the humor. Typical of High Country News, a magazine I used to freelance for and to which I gladly subscribe.
PODCASTING: “Inside Appalachia” is a wonderful podcast about one of the most misunderstood regions in the United States, told in the voices of natives who offer a great mix of past, present, and future through politics, culture and food, and an emphasis on West Virginia because it’s produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Even if you’ve never been, you’ll enjoy!
SHOUTOUT TO: Jodi, who kindly donated 100 tacos to sponsor TWO full month of MailChango! “No plugs right now. Thanks for your work!”
Gustavo in the News
“How This Chicano Poet From Diamond Bar Got Into 50 Bookstores Without a Major Deal”: The authors that I blurb always do amazing things!
“Five Fast-Casual Chains That Are Planning to Move Into Colorado This Year”: Always great to get shouted in in Denver’s legendary alt-weekly.
“4 news outlets earn ‘Grand Slam’ honors in APSE contest”: I join the L.A. Times sports folks in getting nominated for some nice awards.
“Fence Defense | Used Clothing as Art | New Plan for Sears”: Eastsider LA shouts out TWO columnas of mine.
“Book Club: Reyna Grande digs into an overlooked chapter of U.S. history”: An L.A. Times newsletter you should subscribe to shouts out a columna of mine.
Latest roster of episodes for “The Times: Daily news from the L.A. Times,” the podcast that I host. Listen to them, and SUBSCRIBE. Don’t let me become the Poochie of podcasts!
“How workers evade vaccine mandates”: Gotta keep tabs on PANDEJOS.
“Mexico’s lawsuit against American guns”: Make the bloodshed stop.
“Russia and China, forever frenemies”: May Xi tire of Putin.
“A homeless community that couldn’t last”: An abandoned dentist office in Koreatown was not what it seemed on the surface.
“An American leaves Ukraine to return”: First-person account.
“Grítale a Guti”: Latest edition of my Tuesday night IG Live free-for-all brings on the DESMADRE.
“LA Times Today: The last lament of the California gringo (Column)”: The television version of my columna from a couple of weeks ago.
“George Gascón and Todd Spitzer are more alike than you think. Hubris unites them”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna compares and contrasts OC and LA’s DAs. KEY QUOTE: “I forecast a day of reckoning for both of them long ago. Gascón and Spitzer can be seen as Shakespearean characters who masterfully fend off opponents but have no answer for their worst enemy: themselves.”
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