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Shooting inside van leaves one man dead

2 wounded during argument on 1-93

WILMINGTON -- Three men were shot, one fatally, inside a speeding minivan early yesterday on Interstate 93 as they were heading home from a night of drinking and watching the Red Sox-Yankees game.

Authorities say the shooting apparently occurred during an argument shortly after one of six men inside the Ford Windstar, a 32-year-old diehard Red Sox fan from Lowell named Jose Rivera, called his girlfriend around 1:30 a.m. and said he would be home soon.

Less than five minutes later, authorities said, a motorist on Interstate 93 north saw people jumping out of the van and dialed 911.

A police officer who stopped the van a short time later found three of the men with gunshot wounds, apparently shot after an argument broke out inside the speeding Ford Windstar, Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley said.

Coakley did not release the identity of the victims, but friends of Rivera said they were told by State Police at the Andover barracks that he had died in the shooting.

Coakley said Julio Rodriguez, 58, of Lawrence, was arrested yesterday on charges of first-degree murder, two counts of armed assault with intent to murder, and illegal possession of a firearm. He was being held by State Police last night pending his arraignment this morning in Woburn District Court.

Authorities did not identify the two other men who were shot. They are being treated at area hospitals and are expected to survive.

Coakley said that the shooting followed an argument, but she did not know what it was about. She said the murder weapon was found inside the Windstar, as well as seven spent shell casings. She said all the violence is believed to have occurred inside the minivan.

"What is unusual about this is that everything happened inside the van," she said. "It is a complete crime scene."

Coakley said that there was "no known antagonism" among the six men prior to the shooting and that the men all knew each other, but that investigators believe they were more acquaintances than longtime friends.

Coakley said the men were in several bars, possibly in the Lynn area, but their exact itinerary had not yet been established by investigators yesterday.

"Alcohol appears to have played a role," she said.

At the Andover barracks yesterday, Nilsa Lopez, who said she lived with Rivera for the past eight years, said her boyfriend called her on his cellphone around 1:30 a.m.

"He was telling me he was going to come home," said Lopez, who declined to comment further.

A friend, Jose Cordero said he had spoken repeatedly with Rivera on his cellphone during the Red Sox game, usually after some dramatic event in the baseball game when Rivera would call and shout his joy at the team's success on the field.

Codero said he last spoke with Rivera around 11:30 p.m. and that at that time, Rivera gave no indication that he was in any danger.

Another friend of Rivera's, Tony Ortiz of Lowell, said he spoke to one of the survivors. Ortiz said the victim, whom he knows only by a nickname, said that he had no idea what prompted the shooting.

"There was never any sign of any trouble," Ortiz said.

Authorities first learned of the shooting after a male driver who used his cellphone called 911 at 1:34 a.m., but declined to give his name. Coakley yesterday urged the 911 caller and anyone who might have information about the incident to call State Police.

According to Coakley, investigators believe that Rodriguez was sitting in the middle of the minivan's third row of seats when he opened fire, first hitting the man on his left, and then another on his right -- believed to be Rivera -- before shooting the front-seat passenger in the hand and back.

Ortiz said the victim who was driving the van when police stopped it told Ortiz he believed Rivera was shot when he tried to wrestle the gun away.

The driver pulled the van over on I-93 just south of Exit 41 and jumped out -- followed by Rodriguez, and another unwounded passenger.

The man in the front passenger seat, although bleeding from his wounds, climbed into the driver's seat and drove the van off Exit 41 onto Route 125 and started heading toward North Andover, passing the State Police barracks in Andover as he drove.

Acting on information from the tipster, a North Andover police officer pulled the van over near Merrimack College.

Rodriguez, who appeared "wet and disheveled," was arrested at 9:30 a.m. after he walked into a business on Andover street in Wilmington and asked to use a telephone, Coakley said.

Employees, alarmed by Rodriquez's entreaties for them not to call the authorities, called Wilmington police who placed him under arrest, she said.

The two other occupants of the van who were not shot were questioned by police but are not suspects, authorities said.

John Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.

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