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HAMMOND — An alleged Latin Dragons gang member's arraignment has been postponed until next week due to the defendant's lack of counsel. 

Manuel Diaz, 26, of Hammond, is accused of firing a single shot from his revolver Saturday at a moving vehicle and killing the driver, Charles Berrios Sr., 50, of Hammond, after a brief confrontation at a gas station between Diaz and another individual. 

Berrios was reportedly not the initial intended target. According to court records, he was shot by Diaz while intervening and trying to place distance between Diaz's vehicle and the individual Diaz was targeting in another vehicle.

Before the start of Thursday's scheduled detention hearing, Diaz entered the room, handcuffed and dressed in an orange jumpsuit, and turned around in his chair to face the U.S. marshal standing between he and his family. They were seated in the second row. 

"You said I can't talk to them?" Diaz asked, nodding to his family. He was told no. 

After Diaz said he nor his family could afford an attorney, Judge John E. Martin asked Diaz a series of questions and deemed him qualified to receive a court-appointed counsel. 

Outside the courtroom, Diaz's family declined to comment.

According to the allegations, Diaz engaged in a brief confrontation Saturday afternoon with a driver of an SUV at Luke's gas station at Indianapolis Boulevard and Carroll Street in Hammond, during which Diaz’s passenger flashed gang signs at the SUV's occupants.

The driver of the SUV displayed a semiautomatic weapon, records show. 

After they left the lot, Diaz pursued the SUV, but a third car, driven by Berrios and traveling with the SUV, refused to allow Diaz’s vehicle to pass, records show. 

Berrios stayed at a stop sign at Howard Avenue to place space between Diaz's Mercury and the SUV, records show.

When he finally proceeded through the intersection, a witness with Berrios said he looked back to see Diaz point a chrome revolver at their vehicle, records show. 

While police said it's unclear if the driver of the SUV is a "full-fledged gang member," the individual displayed a firearm in a threatening manner leading up to the homicide, court records show. 

"As a member of the Latin Dragons, once challenged or threatened in such a fashion, it would have been incumbent on Diaz to take action ... This murder, therefore, was committed ... for the purpose of maintaining or increasing in position in the Latin Dragons," investigators allege.

Diaz's detention hearing has been rescheduled for 11 am. Tuesday.


Public safety reporter

Lauren covers breaking news, crime and courts for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet covering government, public policy, and the region’s heroin epidemic. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.