SAN JOSE -- Two people were killed in San Jose in a four-hour span Wednesday night, marking three homicides in four days and shattering a six-week respite from deadly violence that followed one of the bloodiest stretches in the city's history.
The unrelated slayings bring San Jose's 2012 homicide total to 36, just three shy of the 39 recorded in 2011 -- a 15-year high -- with nearly three months left in the year.
The latest killing occurred just after midnight Thursday at a duplex on Dobern Avenue near Jackson Avenue when a man attending a small birthday party there stepped out to get food from a grill set up in the enclosed front yard, according to police and witnesses.
His quick foray outside was just long enough for him to be confronted by at least two men wearing blue bandannas over their faces, who with seemingly no provocation, opened fire on the house guest, according to one man who said he saw what happened. The victim stumbled back into the home and collapsed, and the shooters were quickly out of sight.
On Thursday morning, the grill and various barbecue items were still laid out near the front door, and a makeshift memorial of candles and flowers gradually expanded on the lawn, with friends of the victim, who has not been formally identified, keeping vigil over the shooting site.
Investigators said based on witness statements and other evidence, the attack appeared to be gang-related, though a motive remained unclear, said Officer Albert Morales, spokesman for San Jose police.
A man who witnessed the shooting said gang members appeared to be involved but that the thirty-ish victim may have been targeted simply for wearing brightly colored clothing.
"We were not bothering anybody," said the witness, who declined to be named out of concern for his safety.
He went on to lament the presence of drugs and violence in the neighborhood tucked away between Interstate 680 and Capitol Expressway.
"Right now this area is not a safe area to be," he said.
A few hours earlier, about 8:30 p.m., police were called downtown to South Second Street near East San Fernando Street for reports of a fight and found a man lying unconscious on the sidewalk. Morales said there was no clear cause of death pending an autopsy. His identity has not been released, and no suspects have been identified in this killing.
The two homicides come on the heels of a fatal stabbing early Sunday outside a bar off Bernal Avenue and Monterey Highway that claimed the life of 28-year-old San Jose resident Daniel Marichalar, a member of the Henchmen motorcycle club. Another San Jose man, 27-year-old Mateo Gutierrez, has been arrested in connection with the death, which followed a large brawl outside the Hideaway Lounge.
It broke up a six-week stretch where San Jose had no killings after recording eight in an 11-day period in mid-August, one of the bloodiest killing streaks in the city's history. Half were determined to be gang-related, and they shocked a community used to being one of the country's safest large cities and rekindled a battle between City Hall and the police union about budget cuts, police understaffing and rising crime rates.
When asked about whether the city could expect a resurgence given the past week's slayings, Morales said it was difficult to say anything with certainty.
"We certainly hope not," Morales said. "But we really don't know. We investigate these events as they come."
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.