Teenager tried to stay clear, but was targeted, slain
By Joe Hughes
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
December 1, 2004
Born three months premature, he wasn't much bigger than a glass of wine. Proud parents Jeron and Perfect Champagne named their tiny new arrival Dom Perignon.
"He was so bubbly, the name seemed a perfect fit," said his mom, tears streaming down her face as she sat in a North Park funeral home yesterday arranging to bury her 18-year-old son.
Champagne is one of the latest victims of gang violence in San Diego. He was killed in a drive-by shooting Friday while driving his high school graduation gift, a 1996 Chevrolet Caprice Classic, in Lincoln Park about 3:30 p.m.
Witnesses told police the gunman flashed a gang sign before opening fire. Champagne, who was not a gang member, was struck in the head and died in the front seat.
No one has been arrested.
Champagne's stepfather, Albert Engelberger, said Dom had been targeted by gangs in the past and was beaten by 15 thugs at a downtown trolley stop last year. "That's why we had him leave San Diego last year."
He moved to Texas, where he finished school and lived with relatives. He was visiting family in San Diego for Thanksgiving when he was killed.
His family said Champagne had recently met with military recruiters and was planning to enlist in the Marine Corps.
The shooting has puzzled parents and police.
"Dom was of sturdy stock, about 5 feet 7, 180 pounds, no ankles, just calves. He loved football and he wouldn't be pushed around," Engelberger said. "But he was more a loner. He wouldn't join anything like a gang."
Police believe Champagne may have been targeted at an Ocean View Boulevard gas station, where witnesses said he was talking to two men in a blue car while filling up.
The same blue car tailed Champagne as he drove away. Police believe the killer was in the car.
Police have no further description of the vehicle.
Champagne's parents said they have had enough of San Diego. They vow to return only when someone is arrested and put on trial.
Burial will be in Fort Worth, Texas. An empty bottle of Dom Perignon, saved since the boy's birth, will be put in his casket.