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Man charged with Gage Park slaying told to ‘light up’ minivan, prosecutors say

Police investigate a fatal shooting Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018 in the 2700 block of West 58th Street. | Justin Jackson/ Sun-Times

Police investigate a fatal shooting Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018 in the 2700 block of West 58th Street. | Justin Jackson/ Sun-Times

A man charged in a fatal shooting last October in Gage Park is being held without bail after prosecutors said he lay in wait for the victim to drive down an alley before opening fire.

Mario Vargas, 21, was called by an uncharged co-defendant before the Oct. 20 shooting and told to “light up” a minivan driven by 21-year-old Juan Cruz as Cruz followed the co-defendant’s car in the minivan, Cook County prosecutors said at a hearing late last week at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

Vargas was recorded on video surveillance running with a gun to the mouth of an alley off the 2700 block of West 58th Street where he waited for Cruz’s minivan to follow the co-defendant down an alley off the block, prosecutors said.

When Cruz’s vehicle drove down the alley about 10:40 p.m. that night, Vargas opened fire with a 9-mm handgun, riddling the minivan with bullets and fatally striking Cruz in the back, authorities said. Cruz crashed after exiting the alley and was taken to University of Chicago Medical Center, where he died less than an hour later.

Earlier, the co-defendant was driving his girlfriend and another person in his girlfriend’s Nissan Altima to a house party in the area, prosecutors said. When they arrived in the block where the party was being held, they came up to Cruz’s Chrysler Town and County minivan, which was double parked.

Mario Vargas | Chicago police

Prosecutors said Cruz is the father of the co-defendant’s girlfriend’s child and that Cruz had let the air out of her tires while it was parked near her house the day before.

Cruz got into the minivan after recognizing the Nissan and began to reverse the minivan toward the Nissan, prosecutors said. Both vehicles reversed about a block down the street together, until the co-defendant drove forward and away from the minivan.

Cruz then followed the Nissan in his minivan, resulting in a chase that lasted about 10 minutes, prosecutors said. It was during the chase that the co-defendant used his cellphone and his girlfriend’s cellphone to call Vargas, prosecutors said.

The co-defendant told Vargas he was being chased and that he was near an alley close to Vargas’ home. He then told Vargas to “bring the thing and light up the car,” prosecutors said. Those statements were overheard by the co-defendant’s girlfriend and the other person in the car.

Prosecutors said Vargas hid near the mouth of the north alley in the block and waited for the Nissan to drive through the alley past him before he opened fire at the trailing minivan.

After the shooting, video surveillance recorded Vargas running into the backyard of his nearby home, prosecutors said. Cell tower records confirmed Vargas was in the area of the shooting at the time that it occurred.

Chicago police records show Vargas was arrested Tuesday in the Scottsdale neighborhood while driving. Vargas told officers he had a handgun in the glovebox and a FOID card. A 9-mm Smith and Wesson handgun was recovered and held for the investigation, his arrest report states.

Ramon Moore, an attorney for Vargas, said Vargas lives at home with his parents and has held down multiple jobs, including working as a construction laborer, a truck driver and a machinist. Moore noted that Vargas lived near the scene of the shooting and said that was why cell tower records would show he was in the area at the time of the incident.

Moore asked Judge David Navarro to set a reasonable bail for Vargas, saying Vargas has no criminal background and that prosecutors had offered no scientific evidence tying him to the shooting.

Judge Navarro denied Moore’s request to set bail for Vargas and ordered Vargas held at the Cook County Jail as the case continues.

Nine people attended the hearing Friday in support of Vargas, with some crying after he was denied bail. All declined to comment.

Vargas’ next court date was scheduled for Feb. 26.