On the quiet block where Pedro Almonte-Sanchez was gunned down last September, birds chirped after the rain. Across from the light brown and beige building he lived in at 85 Strong St., a silver BMW sat parked. Barren trees of a mild winter lined the street, flooded with natural light, even on an overcast day.
The Monday after 19-year-old Zachary Brown was arrested in connection with the shooting, people walked in and out of Almonte-Sanchez’s old building on a day like any other.
“I never felt unsafe because I know it was a personal matter, and other than that, I don’t think it was just a random shooting,” one resident, José Morel, said. “From what I heard, his kid got problems with a gang or something like that.”
Giselle Santos, who’s lived at 85 Strong for the past five years, said the arrest hadn’t made much of a difference for her sense of personal safety.
“I feel good. I don’t have problems,” she said, before adding in Spanish, “I’ve never been scared or anything. And it’s the first time something like that has happened. It’s safe here.”
It was around 6 p.m., on Sept. 26, when police say a group of teenagers approached the 39-year-old Almonte-Sanchez, while he and his son Justin were getting into their car on Strong Street. One neighbor told The Riverdale Press last September Almonte-Sanchez’s son had found himself in some trouble at school hanging out with reported gang members, but had since tried to disassociate himself from them.
A bystander was also wounded in the shooting, police said.
Eduardo Andrade has worked as the building’s handyman for more than two years, and it’s the first time he’s heard of a shooting there or in neighboring buildings. He warmly greeted a woman as she stepped out. Even in light of the shooting, he still feels safe.
“It’s a very calm building, relaxed, take-it-easy,” he said in Spanish. “Everything’s good with the building. There aren’t problems.”
As for the crime itself, Andrade added, it had little to do with the location.
“It seems it was a street problem, not in the building,” he said.
Pablo Alba remembered Almonte-Sanchez as “a quiet guy.”
Alba was in his kitchen that September night when he heard gunshots. At first, he didn’t go downstairs, fearing for his safety. But eventually he saw his neighbor, “laying on the floor, on the ground, right here,” he said, from the street in front of the building. “I never see a dead person just with my eyes. I see on TV, but it’s the first one. It gotta be somebody that I knew. That really shocked me.”
Brown was arrested Jan. 19 on Heath Avenue inside the 52nd Precinct, and charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder, as well as assault and criminal possession of a weapon. He was arraigned Jan. 21, said 50th Precinct commanding officer Terence O’Toole.
Martin Galvin, a criminal defense attorney who is not working on this particular case, said sentences for a second-degree murder can typically max out at 25 years to life. Attempted murder carries penalties of between 15 and 25 years in prison.
“It has to be second-degree murder because it’s not a police officer,” Galvin said.
“In other words, second-degree murder is an individual. There’s a special crime for police officer, corrections, that sort of thing. That would be even more serious — first-degree murder.”
Brown’s alleged gang ties also could have a bearing.
“It may be a motive,” Galvin said. “Sometimes you have killings because a gang member is involved.”
And then there’s Brown’s rap sheet.
“Years from now, when the case is ready for a plea or he is convicted after trial and sentenced, (the defendant’s rap sheet) can come up,” Galvin said. “But we’re way, way away from that.”