An angry driver shot and killed a motorist and a pedestrian after an argument at a stop sign in Sylmar on Sunday night in the latest of a rash of traffic-related shootings on Southern California roadways in the last month.
The victims were identified Monday as Manuel Brown Avila, 28, and Angel Aguirre Barrera, 36, both of Sylmar.
The Los Angeles Police Department's Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) unit, which investigates gang-related crimes, is taking part in the investigation because officers believe the victims were members of a San Fernando Valley gang.
However, police said they have found no gang-related connections in the killings. "It just seemed to be an argument, because this guy wouldn't move his damn car out of the way and spontaneously things got cooking," Foothill Division Detective Jay St. John said.
The entire incident took no more than three minutes, witnesses told police.
They said an argument broke out at about 6:30 p.m. between Avila, who was driving a Chevrolet, and an unidentified man in a beige Buick at the corner of San Fernando Road and La Valle Street. Avila had halted his car at a stop sign and would not move.
"A guy came up behind him and honked and honked and honked and got no response," St. John said. "So he went over to the other man's car and started slapping him around."
The man hit Avila, attempted to choke him and then went back over to his car, yelling "move your damn car," and "get the damn thing out of the way," the detective said.
As the man went back to his car, Barrera, who was believed to have been walking by or sitting on the steps of a nearby abandoned house, threw a beer bottle at him, area residents said.
No words were exchanged between Avila and Barrera, St. John said, adding that "it was like the one guy was backing him up, because he saw the other guy slap him around."
When the man returned to his car, he reached into the back seat, pulled out a gun and "shot to his left and then shot to his right," killing both men, St. John said.
A 12-year-old witness, who asked that her name not be used, said several people hid behind trees when they heard the two shots being fired.
Afterward, the killer got back into his car and sped away.
"I think the guy must have been on drugs, he just went off," said a neighbor who saw the shooting from his apartment window. "Between this and the freeway shootings, I'm afraid to go out on the road," said another resident.
Although a witness ran after the gunman's car and gave police a license plate number, St. John said the computer showed the number was not registered to anyone.
Police are seeking the public's help in finding the killer, who is described as a black man in his 30s who was believed to be driving a late '60s to early '70s model Buick, St. John said.
Began in June
The recent spate of shootings began in mid-June with a killing on a freeway in the Santa Fe Springs area.
In addition to Sunday's Sylmar shooting, there were four other incidents over the weekend.
At about 4 a.m. Sunday, three bullets hit a car on the Long Beach Freeway just north of Interstate 10, said Alhambra Police Sgt. Jeff Powell. Three other shots were also fired.
The man and woman in the car were uninjured and the gunman's vehicle was identified only as a blue pickup truck.
On Sunday afternoon two men suffered minor injuries when a motorist opened fire on them on Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica.
On Saturday, a gunman on an Orange County freeway shot out the rear window of a van. The four surfers inside were uninjured.
Friday night a 17-year-old Pomona high school student was shot to death when he drove his car onto a roadway at a slow speed.
The Guardian Angels anti-crime organization on Monday began handing out "freeway violence tip sheets" in the Hollywood area to combat what one member called a "Mad Max" mentality among drivers.
They also placed yellow ribbons on auto antennas as a symbol of cautious driving and a warning to belligerent drivers that they will be reported.
The road violence has prompted suggestions from authorities that motorists should restrain their tempers and avoid traffic-related confrontations. If possible, license numbers should be noted and all incidents should be reported to police or the California Highway Patrol.
"Be a wimp on the freeway," suggested Dr. Martin Brenner, medical director of the stress unit at Western Medical Center in Anaheim. "It's not the place to be assertive."