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Violence Prompts Santa Monica Mayor to Urge Fireworks Ban

July 06, 1986|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

With police reporting one fatal shooting, several assaults and 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 the 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 vote.

"We only need to pick up one (vote)," 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."

The scene on the beach Friday night was "the worst Fourth of July we ever had," said Police Sgt. Harry Kutzbach, a 17-year veteran.

"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."

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 the shore at 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 and helicopters were called in to douse a blaze north of Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley.

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

Officials said there was no significant increase in holiday-related fires over previous years. "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.

Single Brush Fire

In Santa Monica, the only brush fire caused by fireworks erupted on the cliffs overlooking the beach, contrasted with seven last year.

Most of the violence during the Santa Monica show was gang-related, police said, including the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old youth after an exchange of taunts between rival Latino gangs.

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," Kutzbach said.

Two policemen were injured on Santa Monica beach. Other incidents included 10 assaults with deadly weapons, two shootings, one car theft, one armed robbery and about 200 fights. Although the crowd was generally good-natured, spectators had to be on the alert to dodge unauthorized firecrackers that drunken youths were tossing at random, police said.

'Like Normandy Beach'

"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.

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

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

Despite her negative reaction, other council members were not convinced that the show should end.

Year-Round Problem

"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 James P. Conn also said he would continue to vote for the show unless city staff members say the situation has become impossible.

"I thought it was wonderful--one of the best yet," Conn said.

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