Tiny Loop parking garage — home to a murder, shots fired, and drug busts — scores another gun arrest

Gabriel Esparza | CPD

A Loop parking garage that has been the site of drug busts, gun seizures, shots fired, and a murder in the past six months scored another gun case last week, according to court records. On top of all of that, police in April included the garage on a list of downtown parking facilities that were being targeted in a wave of auto break-ins across the Loop. Perhaps because of those burglaries, cops have been paying more attention to the garage lately.

Last Tuesday, cops patrolled through the garage at 801 South Wabash and saw a car running on the second-floor roof deck with “large clouds of smoke billowing from [the] vehicle,” Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Burkhardt said.

Officers asked the driver, 23-year-old Gabriel Esparza, and his front seat passenger to step out of the car, Burkhardt said. That’s when police saw a loaded handgun lying on the driver’s floorboard and a plastic baggie containing a “white powdery substance” in Esparza’s coat, according to Burkhardt.

Prosecutors charged Esparza with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, possession of a controlled substance, and unlawful possession of cannabis by a driver. Burkhardt said Esparza received two years of “first time gun offender probation” for a case in 2018. Esparaza violated the probation several times, but the court still considered his performance satisfactory, according to Burkhardt. Esparza is currently on probation for possession of a controlled substance in DuPage County.

His defense attorney said he lives in Blue Island and has three children. Judge Mary Marubio set his bail at $50,000. He’ll need to post $5,000 to go home on electronic monitoring before trial, she said.

The nondescript two-story parking garage where Esparza was arrested has been fighting well above its weight class when it comes to generating police activity lately.

On May 9, witnesses reported hearing shots fired near the garage around 3:15 a.m. No one was injured, but police found shell casings inside the garage.

On April 27, police found a gun, pot, and LSD in a fanny pack when they investigated a carload of men who were drinking alcohol in a car at the garage, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors charged 20-year-old Juan Razo with armed violence, resisting police, and two controlled substance counts in that case. Burkhardt told Judge John Lyke that Razo was on probation in Lake County for a gun case and has two juvenile convictions — one for gun possession and the other for reckless discharge of a firearm.

Two nights later, around 9:10 p.m. April 29, cops wandered through the parking garage again and found a minivan running with no front license plate, prosecutors said. When officers looked inside the van, they allegedly saw a scale, 44 grams of cannabis, and small plastic baggies. Jacob Smith, 32, was in the driver’s seat and the butt of a loaded handgun was sticking out of the back of a passenger seat, prosecutors said.

Smith is charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, manufacture-delivery of cannabis, and a motor vehicle title violation. Prosecutors said he’s on probation for another gun case that he pleaded down to a misdemeanor from a felony.

On November 30, 16-year-old Ledon Erwin Jr. was fatally shot inside the parking garage. Police found a handgun in his waistband, according to a CPD report.

Erwin was the front seat passenger of a brand new BMW on the first floor of the garage when two masked men approached around 2:37 a.m., police said. The offenders opened fire, shooting him twice in his face. He was pronounced dead about a half-hour later at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. No charges have been filed in the case.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com