A fist fight in the Northgate Park parking lot escalated into gun fire Monday afternoon forcing 17 East Union High junior varsity softball players practicing on an adjoining field to run for cover.
Coaches immediately responded by sheltering players behind a brick wall until they were safely escorted by the Manteca Police Department off the field. Parents were notified and all softball players were released. No one was hurt.
The team’s practice at 4:24 p.m. was interrupted by a volley of gunshots that began with a fist fight and was followed by a car chase around the parking lot, according to witnesses.
One coach said a group of about a dozen teens had been acting up in the picnic area for about an hour before the fist fight erupted. One mother waiting for her 15-year-old daughter said she saw the fight break out that ended up on the ground and then other youths joining in the slugfest.
She witnessed a white Dodge Charger with three more teens pull into the parking lot and joining in the fight prompting her to call 911. Then another car pulled into the park and its occupants jumped into the fray as well. She said she was worried about her daughter who would be walking out of the ball diamond toward her car at the end of practice.
Then a white colored vehicle pulled up next to her with another two occupants followed by a blue BMW with four teens.
“That’s when I heard the pop-pop-pop and saw the BMW driving away and the passenger hanging out the side window and firing his gun at another car – it looked like they were exchanging gunfire,” she recalled.
The she saw one of the guys throwing another teen into the Dodge Charger during the fight causing a large dent. That was followed by a car chase with occupants shooting at each other. Manteca Police officers later picked up nearly 20 spent cartridges from the parking lot. One had pierced the rear of a silver late model Hyundai sedan attempting to exit the parking lot.
The mom added that when the fighting youth heard the approaching sirens of police cars, they all drove northbound on Hoyt Avenue. The mom noted that her daughter told her later that she was worried about her as well because she knew she was in her vehicle waiting in the parking lot.
Coach Rob Dietriech said he had 17 high school girls at the team practice. He could hear the gun shots coming from the parking lot – thinking it was fire crackers – adding that he had seen the boys there earlier and said he should have called police then to chase them out. He said they were being loud and rowdy with it being something of a daily occurrence. Varsity coach Brian Goulart was also on the scene.
The coach added that he will not be practicing at Northgate Park anytime in the near future as his team has become very frightened by the experience. He noted that two of the girls were extremely shaken.
Manteca Unified spokesperson Victoria Brunn in a statement noted that the “East Union High School coaching staff was prepared and responded appropriately to ensure the safety of our students.”
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