The night 20-year-old David Sandler was fatally shot in front of a Brentwood, Long Island, bodega, he saved a life—and he did so with a bag of weed.
That’s according to his best friend and former roommate, who also took a bullet in the head that night but came away from the alleged gangland shooting lucky to be alive.
“I wouldn’t be here to raise my kids,” Sandler’s friend, who we’ll call Chris, tells the Voice. “I’ve got two kids and another on the way. . . . I wouldn’t have gotten to see them grow up [if not for Sandler].”
The man responsible for the deadly shooting—and murdering another man about a month later—was arrested last week by federal authorities after more than two years on the run. He’s 22-year-old Carlos Ortega, a/k/a “Silencio,” a known MS-13 gang member who, according to federal prosecutors, admitted to shooting Sandler and Chris and hacking a third victim to death with a machete. (That victim, the feds say, was another MS-13 gang member who refused to kill a rival gangster. He was taken to a beach in Far Rockaway where a third MS-13 gang member tried to shoot him, but the gun jammed. Ortega then slashed him in the head with a machete before taking turns stabbing him with other gangsters.)
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, in its complaint, says Sandler and Chris were targeted by Ortega because they were members of the Latin Kings, a rival street gang.
“Sure, we knew [Latin Kings]—you didn’t go to school in Brentwood and not know those guys,” Chris says. “They were everywhere. But were we part of the gang? Associates of the gang? No. We just knew a few of those guys. We weren’t in the gang.”
According to the feds, Sandler was killed because Ortega had to “put in work” for MS-13 by offing a rival gangster. Chris, however, says his friend was murdered because of an old beef he had with some of the MS-13 gangsters over a girl, not because of his affiliation with any street gang. He says the harassment from the MS-13 gangsters was endless and had been going on for years.
“About a year before [the shooting], they stabbed [Sandler] at a party,” Chris says. “[MS-13 members] were everywhere—in front of the deli, outside our house—like, 20 of them would be waiting there for him. The cops knew about it. They knew he had beef [with them] and that he got stabbed—but they didn’t do anything about it. They’d say: ‘They’re just gonna kill each other. Let them do what they want.'”
Chris and Sandler weren’t gangsters, but they admittedly sold marijuana.
“We were trying to make money to get away from all this shit, and I thought, ‘We can make money selling [weed],'” Chris says. “We were just trying to do what we had to do. Neither of us got help from our parents, and $10 an hour didn’t cut it.”
On February 17, 2010, Ortega—who Sandler didn’t know was an MS-13 member—asked if Sandler would sell him some weed. Sandler agreed and gave him Chris’s cell-phone number and told him to call the number later to set up a time to pick it up. When Ortega called, Sandler told him to meet them at the deli near his house on Timberline Drive and Second Avenue in Brentwood. Ortega, court documents show, tried to get the two men to meet him in a more isolated area to make the deal.
“He sounded belligerent when he called—drunk,” Chris says. “We were already feelin’ iffy about it. We didn’t want to go. But [Sandler] got them to meet us at the deli.”
Chris says that as he and Sandler were walking to the deli, they were joking around and laughing. Then they saw two men get out of a Ford Explorer near the predetermined spot to make the deal. Sandler told Chris to give him the weed because he had already been dealing with the men they were supposed to meet.
“He took the bag, and it saved my life,” Chris says. “It was mad snowy out that night, and he got up ahead of me with the weed. As I was walking to catch up, I watched him hand it to one of the dudes, and then the other guy started shooting. Pop, pop. [Sandler] went down, and that’s when I started to turn around.”
Chris then heard another pop. The bullet went in his neck and came out his face. Another bullet hit him in the arm, breaking it.
Chris was in a coma for three days. His neck was broken, and it was expected that he’d be paralyzed. He says he’s still recovering, but can now walk. He still has a hard time moving his elbow and suffers terrible migraines. He says he still has nightmares about the shooting.
Sandler, however, died in the snow in front of the deli as Ortega and his MS-13 buddies fled in the Explorer.
Chris says much of the violence in Brentwood could have been prevented if authorities had cared more about the gangsters living within the community before people started getting murdered, including two teenagers—a 13- and 15-year-old—in the months leading up to Sandler’s murder.
“They were everywhere in Brentwood—they hang out in front of the junior high and hit on 13-year-old girls. They’d roll up 10 deep and try and fight people, and you have to fight back. If you get labeled a punk in Brentwood, you’re done. But the cops didn’t care until people started dying.”