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USC Player Shot on Practice Field : Football: Police say stray bullet from gang-related incident a quarter-mile away wounds freshman linebacker.

September 29, 1992|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jon McGee, a freshman linebacker from Tucson, was struck by gunfire Monday as he waited for football practice to start at USC's Howard Jones Field.

Authorities said McGee was not the intended target but was hit by gang-related gunfire about a quarter-mile away.

McGee, 18, suffered what was described as a "through-and-through" wound, meaning the bullet passed completely through his arm above his left elbow. He was taken to the California Medical Center, where he was expected to remain overnight and undergo tests to determine if any blood vessels were damaged.

The intended target also was wounded in the 3:30 p.m. attack near Jefferson Boulevard and Vermont Avenue. He was a passenger in a car fired on by a bicyclist who, police said, shot three to five times.

LAPD Capt. Bob Kimball called McGee an innocent bystander. McGee was hit by an "arcing shot," Kimball said.

"I was walking on the field and I heard six or seven gunshots," McGee said in a statement released by the school. "Four or five seconds later, I felt something hit me in the arm. My arm went numb. I didn't know what was happening, and then I saw some blood and figured I was shot."

Said backup quarterback Corby Smith, son of USC Coach Larry Smith: "Blood was pouring like Coke out of a can."

Ironically, because of a foot injury, McGee wore a yellow jersey so teammates would avoid hitting him.

"I was more mad than anything because . . . this was supposed to be my first week back," said McGee, who is no relation to USC Athletic Director Mike McGee. "I couldn't believe it."

Dr. Amos Kuvhenguhwa said that McGee, an all-state linebacker at Tucson Sahuaro High last season, can't practice for two to three weeks.

Several teammates said they didn't realize what was happening.

"We were in walk-throughs and we heard 'pop, pop, pop,' " offensive tackle Len Gorecki said. "And then, about five seconds later, (McGee) was going, 'Give me a trainer. I got shot, I got shot.' And everybody was going, 'What? He got shot?' "

Safety Stephon Pace said most players dismissed the sound of the gunfire, believing it to be fireworks or a car backfiring.

"In the city, we hear sounds like that every day," he said. "So, when you hear something like that, it's a natural reaction to let it go. We didn't really take into account that somebody was out there shooting a gun into the air."

Offensive guard Titus Tuiasosopo said that he wasn't surprised to hear gunshots had been fired, but "it surprised me that we let it get this close to campus.

"Every day we hear about somebody getting shot, but it hits home when it gets this close to you."

After McGee left the field, practice was delayed as Larry Smith and his assistants moved the players to a side of the field.

About 45 minutes later, after Smith had met with police, the Trojans resumed preparing for Saturday's game against No. 1-ranked Washington at Seattle, practicing for about two hours while television news trucks lined up outside an eight-foot fence that surrounds the field.

"To me, it was a freak accident," Smith said. "I mean, my own son's out here on the field. I didn't fear for his safety. . . .

"I wouldn't have put our players back out here to practice football had I not been convinced that everything was OK."

Said Pace: "It was a long (delay) because we really wanted to start practicing, get in and get out.

"We were scared. That's natural when someone gets hurt--that you panic a little bit. But after we got calmed down and everybody got together--we have something to do on Saturday afternoon. We still have to go on and prepare to play Washington."

Tuiasosopo said Saturday's game seemed less significant.

"The game is very minuscule compared to what happened today," he said. "But I think not only Jon, but the team is blessed that nothing more happened."

At least 50 players were standing in the vicinity of where McGee was hit, several witnesses said.

The intended target of the gunfire was driven to a nearby fire station and treated for a graze wound to the head.

Two witnesses riding with the victim provided a description of the suspect. Police were looking for a male Hispanic, 22 to 23 years old, 5 feet 6, 160 pounds, wearing a black jacket, white T-shirt and khaki pants.

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