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A Violent, Unruly Fourth Gives Santa Monica Second Thoughts

July 06, 1986|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

With police reporting one fatal shooting, several assaults and at least 59 arrests after a seaside fireworks show that drew more than 500,000 people, the mayor of Santa Monica said Saturday that the city should cancel its annual Fourth of July display.

"My real concern is, how can we let people think it's safe when we know it isn't?" said Mayor Christine E. Reed, who wanted to cancel this year's show but found herself on the short end of a 4-3 City Council vote.

"We only need to pick up one (vote to end the display)," she said. "I'd maintain the same position. We're going to be forced to give up the municipal fireworks show because of the related problems."

Councilman James P. Conn, a fireworks show supporter, disagreed. "I don't think it was as bad as it was a year ago or as bad as anybody expected it might be," he said. "Everybody seemed to be having a great time."

Although most of the crowd appeared to be unaffected by the problems, Police Sgt. Harry Kutzbach, a 17-year veteran, called the beach scene "the worst Fourth of July we ever had."

"A lot of cities up and down the coast that used to have fireworks canceled theirs, and there was a lot of media coverage telling people the place to go would be Santa Monica, so that's obviously where most of the people went," he said.

Most of the violence during the show was gang-related, police said, including the fatal shooting of a 16-year old boy after an exchange of taunts between rival Latino gangs. His identity was not immediately released.

Santa Monica Police Sgt. Don Quinn said the shooting occurred about 12:15 a.m in the 1300 block of Pacific Coast Highway. Four suspects were arrested in the 1700 block within a half-hour of the slaying, said Kutzbach.

The four, all of Los Angeles, were identified as Jaime Reyna, 27; Francis Gonzalez, 18; Benjamin Murillo, 18, and Jose Palaez, 22, he said.

The four were held with no bail set in the Santa Monica jail on suspicion of murder, said Kutzbach. No hearing or arraignment dates for the suspects have been set, he said.

In nearby Mar Vista, a gunman fired into a crowd celebrating Independence Day, killing a 12-year-old boy and wounding four other youngsters. Police said they knew of no motive for the shooting.

Numerous fights broke out on Newport Beach and a policeman was treated for a possible concussion after a high-powered illegal firecracker went off near his head.

In the harbor community of Wilmington, five children were hurt, two of them critically, when a lit firecracker was dropped into a box of fireworks.

Five more youngsters were hurt in a similar accident in North Hollywood.

Number of Fires

Officials said holiday-related fires did not increase significantly over previous years. Santa Monica, for instance, had one brush fire caused by fireworks--on the cliffs above the beach--contrasted with seven last year.

"This is one of the most uneventful Fourths we've had in years," said Battalion Chief Gordon Pearson of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Nonetheless, helicopters were called in to douse a blaze north of Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley.

And in Boyle Heights, four families were left homeless by a fire in the attic and roof of a two-story apartment building.

The scene in Santa Monica was a mixture of family picnics on the sand, pleasure boats anchored offshore and fireworks exploding in the air--and occasionally on the ground as police warned spectators to watch for illegal firecrackers tossed by drunken youths.

"It's like Normandy Beach," a French visitor said as cherry bombs boomed, Roman candles shrieked and smoke made the beach look like a battlefield even before the official show started at 9 p.m.

Paramedics treated two people for burns, said Mike Shields, a Santa Monica Fire Department dispatcher. An illegal M-80 firecracker, equal in explosive power to a quarter of a stick of dynamite, exploded in the hand of one victim.

Tally of Troubles

Police reported two officers were injured on the beach. Other incidents included 10 assaults with deadly weapons, two shootings, one car theft, one armed robbery and about 200 fights.

Officials said new measures to direct traffic away from the beach resulted in a significant improvement over previous Fourth of July traffic jams. "It was probably the best traffic flow we've had in years," Sgt. Kutzbach said.

The show--and its side effects--drew mixed reaction from council members.

"I loved the fireworks," Mayor Reed said, "but I was appalled as I am every year by the behavior of people in the crowd."

"Gang violence is a problem we're going to deal with year-round," said Councilman Herb Katz, adding that the fire danger would be greater without a city-sponsored show because more people would be tempted to set off their own fireworks.

Councilman Conn also said he would continue to vote for the display unless city staffers say the situation has become impossible.

"I thought (the show) was wonderful--one of the best yet," Conn said. "I want to have a party. I believe the people deserve to have a party. . . ."

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