With the killer still at large, police seek a motive for the fatal daytime shooting of a construction worker in Venice

By Gary Walker

Shooting victim Marvin Ponce, pictured in family photos shared with The Argonaut, is survived by his mother (left) and a baby daughter. Ponce was killed while directing traffic for a construction project in Venice, and police have yet to determine a motive.

Shooting victim Marvin Ponce, pictured in family photos shared with The Argonaut, is survived by his mother (left) and a baby daughter. Ponce was killed while directing traffic for a construction project in Venice, and police have yet to determine a motive.

Antoinette Reynolds met Marvin Ponce on his first and what would be his only day working a construction site in her rapidly changing Venice neighborhood.

Ponce, who was handling traffic control for a residential project at Seventh and Brooks avenues in Oakwood, was moving traffic barriers to let cars pass but stopped what he was doing to help Reynolds remove her wheelchair-bound cousin from their vehicle.

“He was very respectful and very approachable. He was smiling all day. He told me it was his first day working here, and he seemed to be happy all the time,” said Reynolds, who saw Ponce when she left for work in the morning for work and again when she returned home at about 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 3.

Half an hour after assisting Reynolds, an unidentified assailant gunned down Ponce in the middle of Seventh Avenue as Ponce, 37, was removing equipment from the area.

Ponce’s killer remains at large, and police say they have not yet determined a motive for the shooting.

Reynolds believes she heard two gunshots, but at the time she thought it was just noise related to the multiple construction sites in the neighborhood.

“All of a sudden I heard ‘Boom. Boom.’ It’s really devastating when you’re talking to someone and then, just like that, they’re not here anymore,”  said Reynolds, who runs the Mildred Cursh Foundation, a Venice-based nonprofit that provides mentorship and other assistance for children of incarcerated parents.

Ray Hall, who lives nearby on Broadway, recalled seeing Ponce in the early morning hours of Aug. 3. The 700 block of Brooks had been blocked off due to construction and street repairs, and Ponce was directing traffic.

“He was taking down some barricades to let people out [of the street]. He was laughing and joking with some of them,” Hall recalled.

LAPD homicide detectives are still investigating Ponce’s murder. Initial reports identified the gunman as a black male, 25 to 30 years old, who was wearing gray shorts, a black hoodie and black sunglasses and was last seen running westbound on Seventh Avenue.

“We’re still seeking witnesses to see if anyone can help us find out who committed this crime,” LAPD West Bureau homicide Det. Steven Katz said.

‘A Model Employee’

Ponce lived in San Fernando and was constantly upbeat, said Mario Recinos, a longtime friend who worked with Ponce at the San Dimas-based traffic control and safety equipment company Right of Way.

“Marvin was a family man, and he worked hard to take care of his family — especially his daughter,” Recinos said. “He was never negative, always gave positive advice and always had a big smile on his face.”

Wesley Mollno, the president of WCS Permits, which owns Right of Way, said he doesn’t usually have time to get to know his employees, but Ponce was different.

“He was one of the guys who was always smiling. I always looked forward to seeing him,” Mollno recalled. “He treated every one with respect. He was a model employee.”

Ponce, who is survived by his mother and a 1-year-old daughter, had worked at Right of Way for three years and six months, Mollno said.

A GoFundMe crowdfunding page has been created to cover Ponce’s funeral expenses, and Mollno said he plans to create a college fund for Ponce’s daughter with any remaining funds.

As of Tuesday, donors had pledged more than $20,000 of a $30,000 on the GoFundMe page.

‘Apocalyptic’ mood

Reynolds acknowledged that there had been tensions in the neighborhood in the days before the shooting, but she doesn’t think they factor into the murder.

Unlike the gang violence that plagued Oakwood in the 1990s, it was a confluence of quality of life impositions — due largely to the proliferation of new home construction in the area — that created an atmosphere of anxiety and frustration.

“A lot of people are upset because of the construction, the closed street and the no-parking signs that the city put up during construction. A lot of cars have been towed because not everyone has a driveway where they can park their cars like I do,” Reynolds said. “Then we had the water main break on Brooks [on Aug. 2], and that left a lot of us without water for several hours.

“People are upset about a lot of things, including the gentrification of our neighborhood with all of these three-story houses being built, but it wasn’t because of [Ponce]. It was his first day and he was respectful to everyone.”

Jenni Hawk, who lives less than a block from Ponce’s construction site on Brooks and was impacted by the water main break, said the mood on her street was “apocalyptic” in the days leading up to Ponce’s murder because of the blocked streets, towed cars and flooding.

“People felt encroached upon, like they were in the middle of a hostile takeover,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was someone from the neighborhood.”

Echoes of the 1990s

Mollno said Ponce was so universally liked that nearly 20 traffic control firms sent representatives to his funeral.

“This is a competitive business. But it really is special to see so many competitors take time out to come together for the human side of our business,” he said.

Reynolds, who lived in Oakwood during the gang wars of the 1990s, said Ponce’s murder left her distraught for days.

“This is really terrible. It was a senseless crime,” she said.

Police are asking that anyone with information about the shooting call LAPD West Bureau Homicide at (213) 382-9470, the main tip line at (877) LAPD-24-7, or the anonymous tip line at (800) 222-8477.

Donations for Ponce’s family are being accepted at gofundme.com/2bdkptz7.