58 years for man who murdered driver because the victim’s van was too noisy; ‘This s*** is funny as hell’

CHICAGO — Sitting in his Irving Park home last year, 20-year-old Gaven Leon became annoyed by the noise of a van stopped for a nearby red light. So, prosecutors say, Leon fired a shot from his apartment window at the van’s driver, killing him.

“This s**t is funny as hell,” Leon said as he recorded a video of Chicago police investigating the murder scene. “This is legendary footage… Who would do such a thing?”

Detectives eventually caught up with Leon. On Thursday, Judge Sophia Atcherson sentenced him to 58 years in prison.

The shooting occurred at Pulaski and Irving Park roads around 11:30 p.m. on February 3, 2022.

Ryan Balbag, 30, and two passengers were stopped for a red light near Leon’s third-floor apartment on the 3900 block of West Irving Park. Leon, allegedly annoyed by noise from Balbag’s vehicle, fired a round toward the van using a rifle with a green laser sight attachment, prosecutors said shortly after his arrest.

The gun jammed. But officials said Leon cleared the firearm, reloaded, and fired a second round as a witness watched from his couch. One of the bullets flew through the back of Balbag’s head. He died at the hospital two days later.

“Ryan was always smiling and just had the most wholesome and positive aura about him,” James Armband wrote in a GoFundMe campaign after the murder. “I would like to think that, in the end, that is how he would want us to continue on his legacy and memory.”

“He made the world a better place wherever he went and truly brought out the best in those around him. Ryan still had so much life left to live.”

Gaven Leon (inset) shot and killed Ryan Balbag because he thought Balbag’s van was too loud, prosecutors said. | CPD; GoFundMe

While police were working the crime scene, Leon told a friend via FaceTime that he shot someone from his window, prosecutors said. The next day, Leon allegedly told a witness that he fired out the window because Balbag’s car was too loud.

Investigators found videos and pictures on Leon’s phone that showed police at the shooting as Leon trolled Chicago police officers.

“Thank you for coming, appreciate it,” Leon told cops.

“I know who was shooting, too,” he said in one video. “This s**t is funny as hell.”

Prosecutors said last year that Leon may have shot toward at least one other driver before killing Balbag.

Four days before Balbag’s murder, Leon posted a picture online with the caption, “This n***r over here doing burnouts at 2 a.m. in the f***ing morning, so I shot at his a**.”

Judge Atcherson found Leon guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm into an occupied vehicle in July, according to court records. On Thursday, she handed him 25 years for the murder plus a 25-year sentencing enhancement for using a firearm during the commission of the crime. Those years must be served 100%, according to her hearing notes. She added eight consecutive years for the other charges. That will be served at 50%.

“Life is short so be sure to tell your loved ones that you love them today,” Armband pleaded on GoFundMe. “Please be safe and continue to pray for the Balbag Family and that hopefully one day, the world can be a better, safer and more united place.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said Leon received 33 years because the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County failed to enter the 25-year sentencing enhancement into the court’s computer records.

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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