A Los Angeles County sheriff's sergeant thought to have been killed in a traffic accident on a freeway entrance ramp over the weekend was actually shot to death, Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said Monday.
California Highway Patrol officers initially investigated the death of Sgt. George Lynn Arthur as a traffic fatality, Gates said, but the coroner's office determined early Monday that the sergeant had died of multiple gunshot wounds.
Arthur, 37, left the men's Central Jail, where he was assigned, just before 10 p.m. Saturday, driving his brown 1979 Chevrolet van, Gates said.
Five minutes later, as Arthur, a 13-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department, was entering the southbound Santa Ana Freeway on the Mission Road ramp, the van crashed into a wall separating ramps to the Santa Ana and eastbound San Bernardino freeways, the chief said.
Gates added that a witness told police that gunshots were heard just before the crash, and a passenger was seen leaving the van and running from the crash scene. That passenger was described as a white or Latino man, between 5-feet, 9-inches and 5-feet, 10-inches tall, weighing between 140 and 175 pounds, 25 to 35 years old.
The area where Arthur's van crashed has been the site of numerous robberies and one other homicide since early 1984, but Gates would not say whether robbery could have been a motive for the shooting.
"It could have been almost anything," he said, adding that police have just begun their investigation. "I really can't speculate except to say that someone was seen leaving the van, and that suggests that perhaps someone was in the van."
Asked if investigators had determined whether the shots were fired from inside or from outside the van, Gates said: "We've determined a number of things that I can't tell you now."
Since Arthur had left work just five minutes before the shooting, Gates said, he assumed the sergeant was on his way home. "But I can't verify that," he added.
The major crimes section of the department's Robbery-Homicide Division is investigating the shooting.