PROSECUTOR: ‘CHANCE ENCOUNTER’ AND COCAINE LED TO LOCUST AVE. BLOODSHED

SuspectsThe suspects, from left: alleged gunman Antonio Domingo ‘Mingo’ Suarez-Perez; Samson Theodore ‘Freedom’ Hearn; and Eric Joel ‘Pun’ Figueras.

A chain of events that began as chance meeting at a local gas station ended with the “brutal” murders of two men on a Red Bank Street early Tuesday morning, authorities said today.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Luis Valentin said 26-year-old Sidney Wakefield of Long Branch was shot some five times as he lay on the street after trying to escape the gunman who confronted him and a friend on Locust Avenue at about 1:35a.

Killed inside Wakefield’s white 1998 Lexus was Wakefield’s longtime friend, 23-year-old Joseph Fann, of Red Bank.

A “primary motive,” said Valentin: to rob one or both victims of an unspecified amount of cocaine.

ValentinMonmouth County Prosecutor Luis Valentin, at podium, describes the shooting as Red Bank police Captain Steve McCarthy, far left, and Chief Mark Fitzgerald, center, listen.

Both men were “obviously deceased” when Red Bank Ptl. James DePonte, responding to “numerous” 911 calls about the incident, arrived on the scene, Valentin said at a news conference in Freehold this afternoon.

It all began when Fann and Wakefield had an “encounter” at a local filling station late Monday with three men in a black Audi with whom they were acquainted, Valentin said. He declined to describe the encounter or say exactly where it happened.

About two hours later, as his alleged accomplices waited nearby, Antonio Domingo Suarez-Perez, who goes by the nickname ‘Mingo,’ “had a confrontation” with Fann and Wakefield on Locust Avenue near Leighton Place, Valentin said.

Suarez-Perez “brandished a handgun” and started shooting, he said. As Wakefield fled the car, the suspect shot him, and continued shooting, he said.

Wakefield was shot “five times, at close range, while he lay on the ground,” Valentin said.

Suarez-Perez, 21, then fled on foot to where his accomplices were waiting in the Audi, Valentin said.

Ptl. DePonte, arriving on the scene, noted the Audi departing, according to Valentin. After backup officers arrived, DePonte went in search of the vehicle, and “within minutes,” spotted it northbound on Route 35 in Middletown, near Twin Brooks Avenue.

With the assistance of Middletown police, the car was stopped and its occupants were arrested and taken to the Red Bank Police Department. No details about the stop were immediately available.

In addition to Suarez-Perez, of Red Bank, the suspects are Eric Joel ‘Pun’ Figueras, 25, also of Red Bank, and Samson Theodore ‘Freedom’ Hearn, 26, of Fair Haven.

While the investigation was underway, several unidentified citizens spotted a handgun near the intersection where the Audi had been stopped, and police recovered it.

Last night, Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Joseph Quinn set all-cash bail amounts of $3.37 million for Suarez-Perez and $1.88 million for Figueras and Hearn. They were to make an appearance in court this afternoon.

Each defendant is charged with two counts of first degree murder, as well as armed robbery and other counts.

Valentin said the use of nicknames by the suspects is not necessarily an indicator of gang affiliation, and that a preliminary investigation indicates that the killings were “not gang related.”

The victims don’t appear to have been armed, he said.

Asked by redbankgreen if the second encounter was planned, Valentin said Suarez-Perez “certainly knew where the victims were at the time of the shooting.”

“This appears to be an isolated incident,” Valentin added. “However, it is not random.”

He noted that the last homicide in Red Bank occurred in 2001.

“This is a safe community of many good, hardworking individuals,” he said.

DePonte is a two-year member of the Red Bank force.

“Excellent police work in conjunction with cooperation from members of the public has resulted in the expeditious arrest of three individuals for the brutal murders of two young men,” Valentin said.

“Arrests such as this stand as a testament to law enforcement’s commitment to protect the public from the horrific consequences of gun violence.”

Autopsies on the bodies of the victims were expected to be completed today, Valentin said.

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