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Laguna Beach on Edge After Armed Rape, Robbery


LAGUNA BEACH — A woman was raped at gunpoint and her boyfriend bound and robbed at a Laguna Beach seaside cove early Tuesday after the couple were approached by suspected gang members wielding a shotgun and a baseball bat, according to police.

The attack stunned civic leaders and increased anxiety that violent crime may be increasing in this normally placid coastal community.

The 20-year-old Pomona man and his 19-year-old La Habra girlfriend, whose names were withheld, were sitting at Crescent Bay Beach about 1 a.m. when they were confronted by the three assailants, police reported.

The man was bound by two of the suspects while a third held a shotgun to his head, police said. Then the woman, her hands tied, was taken to another area of the beach by the male with the shotgun, who repeatedly raped her, said authorities. The weapon was pointed at the woman throughout the attack.

While the woman was being assaulted, the two other suspects left the scene and the male victim freed himself and began searching for his girlfriend, police said. He first approached the two males who had returned to their car, which was parked on Cliff Drive, and then went to the beach where he confronted the suspect with the shotgun.

The suspect pointed the gun at the young man and appeared to try to fire it but the weapon did not discharge.

"Then the three (suspects) took off running," said police Chief Neil J. Purcell Jr. "It's a wonder we didn't have a homicide."

According to police, the suspects fled in a faded blue or gray Chevrolet Blazer with horizontal pin stripes on the side.

The victims went to a local market to call police, Purcell said.

Such attacks are so uncommon in Laguna Beach that the City Manager called City Council members at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday to notify them.

However, some city residents have begun to fear that violence may rise in their community, which has long been known for its small-town ambience.

The fear has been sparked partly by the recent decision of neighboring communities, including Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, to close their beaches earlier, causing some residents here to worry that troublemakers will now gravitate to Laguna Beach, where much of the beach is open all night.

Coming on the heels of a July 5 shooting at Heisler Park, which police also think was gang-related, the attack is expected to fan the debate over whether Laguna Beach should be the only city in Orange County without a beach curfew.

Rick Barrett, president of the Crescent Bay Drive Homeowner's Assn., who describes his north Laguna Beach community as "sleepy" and tightknit, expressed horror Tuesday about the rape.

"Unbelievable; what is this world coming to?" Barrett said. "Crime is something that is, for the most part, new to Crescent Bay."

Ilse Lenschow, president of the Laguna North Neighborhood Assn., said the assault will add momentum to a drive to impose curfews at city beaches.

"This is terrible," Lenschow said. "This will definitely add some strength to asking for a curfew."

But Purcell has cautioned that it is too soon to know whether earlier curfews at neighboring beaches will hurt Laguna Beach.

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