It was 16 years ago, and outside a Koreatown nightclub, when Vinh Quoc Dao found himself in an argument that would forever change his life.
The dispute, which took place just after dawn, was seemingly over a woman, police said. The argument suddenly turned bloody however, when Dao produced a knife. By the time the struggle was over, one man was dead and Dao was accused of murder.
In court, Dao pleaded no contest to assault with a deadly weapon and voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in state prison.
Now, in a case of history seemingly repeating itself, Dao stands accused of stabbing two men to death at a social club in Chinatown.
“He likes knives,” said LAPD Det. Doug Pierce, who is investigating the Chinatown slayings.
On Tuesday, prosecutors charged the 36-year-old native of Vietnam with two counts of murder with the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders and using a knife as a deadly weapon, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
Prosecutors say it was on Jan. 26 that Dao entered the Hop Sing Tong Benevolent Association and began arguing with the club’s president, Tony Young, 64. Authorities say that during the argument, Dao demanded that Young give him $400 to pay for vehicle impound fees.
According to police interviews of witnesses, Young had helped the younger man with money and food before, and Dao had been a former member in good standing of the club.
But Young refused Dao’s request this time, which apparently sent him into a rage. According to authorities, Dao pulled a 6-inch knife and stabbed Young to death. When fellow club-member Kim Kong Yon, 64, tried to stop the attack, Dao began stabbing him as well, according to prosecutors.
The slayings, which occurred just before the Chinese New Year, have cast a pall over downtown’s Chinatown and are reminiscent of the Koreatown episode.
That incident occurred June 10, 2001, when Dao stabbed two people and killed one of them, according to police and court records.
“It’s similar because there are two people stabbed, and he’s the suspect,” said Pierce, who is investigating the Chinatown case.
Based on witness statements, Pierce said the 2001 dispute appeared to be over a woman.
The year before his conviction in that attack, Dao had been a suspect in a case in which someone pulled a small knife and held it nine inches from a victim in Chinatown, but he was neither booked nor charged with a crime, according to police.
Pierce referred to Dao’s criminal history as “fairly violent.”
At the time of his arrest last week, Dao also was wanted in Las Vegas on suspicion of domestic violence, and a warrant had been issued for his arrest, Pierce said.
Dao is being held without bail. If convicted, he faces the possibility of the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. A decision on whether to seek the death penalty will be made at a later date, the district attorney’s office said.
The stabbing victims, Young and Yon, were longtime members of the club and spent most of their days there, playing mah-jongg and visiting with friends, police said.
Friends recalled the men as being “very nice.”
However, roughly two decades ago, Young faced rumors that he was the leader of a local Asian gang with ties to international gangsters — speculation that was fueled by a police raid on his home in 1993.
Young told The Times then that he was a businessman and not involved in criminal activity. He and his lawyer said that authorities had wrongly destroyed his reputation based on unfounded rumors.
“If there was a suspect outstanding and we didn’t have a motive, absolutely we’d be looking into this past,” Pierce said. “But it’s irrelevant really, to me, what he’s done in the past.”