Eastlake was considered by some San Diego residents to be refuge from the criminal activity that occurs elsewhere in our county. But in the last year, the would-be suburban utopia, which is about 12 miles east of the Chula Vista Police Department, has not been immune to a string of crimes and scams.
Since 2018 began, Crimemapping.com has listed 329 crime incidents that happened (until March 7th) in Eastlake and the surrounding areas. Consequently, residents here are becoming more vigilant and posting news of anything suspicious to their social media accounts. Some say this is causing a needless neighborhood panic. Elias Gallegos isn’t one of them.
“People are like ‘The only reason we are hearing about [the uptick in crime] now is because of social media,’” says Gallegos.“That’s bullshit. I grew up here, and I don’t remember seeing aggressive people and gypsies panhandling at every single corner. I’ve never seen as many homeless people or drug addicts walking around the streets.”
Gallegos, 40, is an Eastlake businessman and homeowner. He admits that at one time, he “used to be a bodyguard and kidnapper for the drug dealers.” He’s covered with tattoos, sports a full beard, stands about 5’10”, and weighs 235 pounds. Many residents take to reporting crime and scams with their smart-devices. Gallegos takes matters into his own hands, and then takes photos and posts a warning-message to his community. If the perp is lucky, he’ll only get slapped with some “verbal jiu jitsu.” He says, “What got me so fucking upset was there’s other people at the [Shell] gas station seeing this,” he said, “and nobody wants to say anything and everybody turned a blind eye.”
Gallegos was referring to an incident that he and his wife, Rose, stumbled upon last summer at a gas station embedded in the Eastlake Village Marketplace strip mall anchored by Lowes and Target, just east of Highway 125, and north of Otay Lakes Road. “I saw something that seemed odd,” Rose said. “There was a young girl and her Hispanic mother and a guy trying to extort money from her.”
“I get out of the car and start walking towards [the distressed woman], then she kinda bolts to the gas station [store] inside.” Gallegos said.
Gallegos said he then followed her and asked “Excuse me, are those guys harassing you?”
The panicked lady nodded her head up and down and told Gallegos that she needed to give the two aggressive panhandlers money from the ATM machine. He then asked the woman if she wanted to give; she nodded her head and said, “No.”
“Then she yelled ‘My daughter!’” Gallegos said, “She forgot about her baby in the car and was like fucking freaking out, right. I said ‘Give me the keys,’ and I walk out and she’s behind me. The white guy runs toward me saying ‘Give me the money.’”
Gallegos told him, “Stop right there, you’re not getting any money.”
The former bodyguard, current martial arts instructor was animated as he reenacted the scenario with hand gestures and facial expressions. I talked with him in January and then on February 23rd towards the tail-end of class at his Alliance Eastlake Jiu-Jitsu gym located at 821 Kuhn Drive, around the corner from the gas station.
“‘She’s gonna give me money,’ he said …. then his [Asian] buddy comes behind him and they’re sizing me up and I size them up right away,” Gallegos said. “He was a white guy, maybe 5’7” or 5’8”, wearing a hat, grey hoodie, and shorts. He’s got scruffy facial hair and maybe in his mid 30s. I didn’t get a good look at the Asian guy.”
Gallegos said that Alberto, the gas attendant, yelled on the intercom “You guys gotta leave, because the cops are coming.” He then asked the lady to return to her white SUV to check on her child.
“Two things are going to happen” he said to the perps, “the cops are on their way and if you guys don’t leave right now you’re gonna get hurt really really bad and you’re gonna get arrested. So I walked them [towards] Islands Restaurant and made them get on the street (Otay Lakes Road).”
Gallegos eventually posted about the incident on the East Chula Vista Community Watch Facebook page. Soon his thread lit up. Many women from the 4500-plus online community said that they too were harassed by the two at the same gas station. Another woman said that she was accosted by them at the same plaza.
Rose added that the perps solely targeted “females that were all alone.”
“It turns up these guys are heroin addicts, and they were robbing and strong-arming people all up and down the Eastlake area,” Gallegos said. “So the cops got involved and they got arrested like a week later… it’s getting bad out here, man.”
Nicholas Calderon, 29, disagrees with Gallegos about how bad it is. “The last time I heard about a big crime [here in Eastlake] was in 2006-2007 “when all of those houses were getting broken into around here,” said Calderon, the assistant general manager of the Eastlake Tavern and Bowl, a mile east. “And then there was that drug bust last year or the year before, but you don’t hear about those things anymore.”
Rachel is a 19-year-old customer service rep for the Eastlake Speed Circuit, which is in the same The District Eastlake business complex as the tavern and bowling alley. “I have been hearing about more crime incidents than I have in the past,” she said, as she and her co-workers assisted the kids racing their gas-powered indoor karts.
The District is located at 871 Showroom Place. Upon entering from Otay Lakes Road and then Fenton Street, the palm trees and the fountains make some forget that it’s in an industrial area of Eastlake. Here, there’s a World Gym and Sky Zone if you want to work out, there’s a Filippi’s pizza and Lolita’s Mexican if you want to grub and drink a cold one, and a ten-lane bowling alley is open until 2 a.m. on weekends, if you want to do both.