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Suspect Arrested in Sacramento Bar Shooting

Second Saturday. The Thursday night market on K Street. And now, the New Year's Eve fireworks show in Old Sacramento.

Once again, officials in Sacramento are scrambling to reassure the public after an outbreak of deadly violence near a celebratory event. This time, two people were killed and three others injured late Monday during a shootout at a bar two blocks from where thousands of families had watched the 9 p.m. annual fireworks display over Old Sacramento. The midnight show was canceled.

The alleged gunman, identified by Sacramento police as Carlito Montoya, 22, was caught just minutes after the wild gun battle broke out at 9:40 p.m. inside the Sports Corner Cafe, a boisterous establishment at the corner of K and Second streets that Old Sacramento merchants said had been considered safe. As the shots rang out, New Year's revelers dived to the ground or sought shelter in whatever spaces they could find -- a candy shop, a jewelry store, a tiny arcade with an old-style shooting range.

"I'm still in shock," said Maria Paul, who runs The Candy Barrel on Second Street. Paul said about 80 people, some shaking and crying, took refuge in her shop after the shooting broke out. She locked the doors and the people huddled on the floor.

On New Year's Day, workers scrubbed a trail of blood from the boardwalks of Old Sacramento. Fireworks intended for the scrapped midnight show instead were detonated in the pale morning sky, leaving puffs of smoke.

The city's elected leaders, tourism officials and business owners in Old Sacramento attempted to portray the shooting as an isolated incident not related to the New Year's festivities. Still, the future of the 12th annual fireworks show was uncertain Tuesday.

"This is a senseless thing that could have happened at any venue in town where people gather and someone is dumb enough to bring a firearm," said City Councilman Steve Hansen. "We don't give up because of one bad thing. We don't let a couple of people who made very bad decisions change our city."

Police said the chaotic incident began when an argument erupted inside the Sports Corner Cafe between Montoya and a couple also in the bar. The argument grew into a fight and an employee of the establishment tried to intervene.

Police said Montoya drew a gun and fired at the 30-year-old woman and her 35-year-old husband. Both the woman and her husband were hit by gunfire, as was the employee, who was in his 20s, police said.

The woman, who was hit in her lower body, survived her injuries. But her husband and the bar employee were pronounced dead at the scene.

"We don't think they knew each other," said police spokeswoman Michele Gigante. "We think it was just an argument in the bar that escalated."

A security guard rushed in and exchanged shots with Montoya, police said, before the shooter tried to flee the scene. The guard had his gun pointed at the bloodied suspect and was giving commands when police found both of them outside the bar, Gigante said. Officers immediately grabbed both individuals, not knowing exactly what had happened.

The bar was packed with revelers for New Year's Eve, Gigante said, but no one else was shot.

Montoya is in police custody in a local hospital and is being treated for gunshot wounds. None of the others involved in the altercation had been identified by police as of Tuesday night.

Nearly 100 city police officers and a dozen private security officers were in Old Sacramento patrolling the 9 p.m. fireworks display. Police -- including some on horseback -- responded to the shooting within seconds, witnesses said.

The fireworks show slated for midnight was canceled as detectives launched their investigation. The pyrotechnics were instead detonated just after 8 a.m. on Tuesday, startling residents of neighborhoods along the Sacramento River.

Mike Testa, senior vice president of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the fireworks were armed with live charges and needed to be detonated for safety reasons. Tourism officials had contemplated setting off the fireworks at 3 a.m., but that would have interfered with the police investigation at the shooting scene, he said.

"I'm sure a lot of people did not want to be woken up at 8 a.m.," Testa said. "But the reality is, it had to be done."

Testa said this was the first violent incident in the 12 years the city has held the fireworks show.

"It's an alcohol-free event," he said. "The 9 o'clock show is specifically for families with kids. The music is often Disney songs and there are smiley-face fireworks."

He said it was too early to say if the show would be canceled next year and beyond.

"We have not had those conversations," he said. "But I go back to the fact that we have been doing this event for 12 years without incident and unfortunately we had an isolated incident (Monday) evening. That will be part of the conversation moving forward, but at this point I don't think anybody's made any decisions about next year."

In a statement, Mayor Kevin Johnson said he was "shocked and saddened" by the violence.

"While this is a tragic start to the new year, we must keep in mind that this was an isolated incident that is not typical for Old Sacramento, which hosts thousands of tourists each year and many successful events and festivities," Johnson said.

Copyright 2013 - The Sacramento Bee

McClatchy-Tribune News Service