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Police say drinking pal shot friend in Van Nuys, tossed body in dumpster

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Some details remain sketchy, but this much is known: A man was shot and killed by a drinking buddy in a Van Nuys apartment building Sunday evening, then his body tossed into the downstairs dumpster.

Police say Tito Diaz, 43, was drinking with a man later identified as 25-year-old Saul Zacarias at around 7:25 p.m. Sunday when a gun went off, twice, killing Zacarias.

Police say Diaz then tried to dispose of the body and enlisted the help of 25-year-old William Jimenez, a childhood friend of the victim.

They apparently didn’t try too hard: The body was carried to a trash container downstairs, according to Detective Marc Martinez of the LAPD Van Nuys Division.

“They tried to hide him in a dumpster,” Martinez told KPCC -- a dumpster in the bottom-floor parking lot of the same apartment complex, located on the 14600 block of Friar Street.

“Diaz was booked at Van Nuys Jail for murder and held on $1 million bail,” police reported. “Jimenez was also booked as an accessory to murder and held for $500,000.”

Less clear are the circumstances around the shooting. Some reports say Diaz and Zacarias were passing a handgun back and forth between them when it went off, possibly on accident. The Daily News goes so far as to call it “a game of pass-the-pistol,” though Martinez said he doesn’t know what that is.

“Maybe the people in the house were possibly playing with a gun,” Martinez told us -- with emphasis on the “maybe” and “possibly.” Police seem more inclined to believe the shooting was intentional.

Other reports indicate that a large party was present -- LAist, for example, refers to “a night of drinking involving several men” -- or that the pistol game was between Zacarias and the two men who hid his body. But Detective Martinez said that when it comes to the shooting, “It’s actually just two guys” -- Zacarias and Diaz -- who were involved. Jimenez, he said, was only an accomplice and “did not witness the shooting.”

“We don’t know exactly what transpired before that,” he added. “All we know is that the suspect hit the victim” twice with bullets, once in the head.

Anyone with more information is asked to call Martinez at (818) 374-0040

One thing continues to nag at us about all this: What is pass-the-pistol? The DN doesn’t elaborate, except to call it a “booze-gun game.” And we’re not finding any answers in the Boy’s Manual of Seamanship and Gunnery. This song by the Saint Paul Kings isn’t much help either.

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