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Shooting Shatters Perception of a Community : Crime: Gunfire at an outdoor party left a bystander blinded in one eye. Residents of the affluent neighborhood, which seemed immune from violence, are now searching for answers to teen-age problems.

September 30, 1993|LOIS TIMNICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PACIFIC PALISADES — Violence isn't supposed to happen in Pacific Palisades. When it does, many residents are quick to assume that "outsiders," "gangs" or "the bused-ins" are to blame.

But earlier this month, the affluent, mostly white neighborhood was shaken by a shooting that police say was home-grown. An argument broke out at an informal outdoor party at the end of Los Liones Drive in the hills north of Sunset Boulevard, and escalated into gunfire. Two bullets struck a car, sending shards of glass and metal into the face of a bystander, a Palisades High School senior who may be permanently blind in one eye.

On the scale of urban violence, it was no big deal. But to those who thought of the Palisades as one small corner of Los Angeles that was immune to such incidents, it was a rude surprise.

The incident also has focused the attention of parents, police and school officials on the parties that have become a social staple among the area's youths. The impromptu gatherings take place on weekend nights, usually in cul-de-sacs in the hills, and involve up to several hundred teen-agers and young adults who hang out, drink and use drugs ranging from marijuana to LSD.

Police, who say they view the Sept. 6 shooting as an isolated incident, have arrested and charged two suspects with assault with a deadly weapon: Todd Gilbert, 19, of Pacific Palisades and Adrian Gunderson Williams, 22, of Malibu. Both are free on $40,000 bail each and are scheduled for arraignment Oct. 15. Police said two other men who were in the car with them are still being sought. They have not disclosed which suspect owned or fired the gun.

The victim, Chad McClellan, 18, has lost vision in one eye, although doctors are hopeful that he will eventually regain some peripheral vision.

In the wake of the shooting, police say they are monitoring the canyon gatherings and dusting off Los Angeles' little-enforced teen-agers curfew law. Teachers and students are discussing the incident and the dangers of unsupervised partying.

Reaction among the youths who witnessed the shooting ranges from shrugs ("Big deal, I've seen it before") to alarm ("No more big outdoor parties for me!").

Some parents, meanwhile, say the incident underscores the need for community action to provide alternatives, echoing the concern sparked five years ago when four youths, including the son of U.S. trade representative Mickey Kantor, died in a fiery automobile crash after a night of partying. At least a dozen Palisades youths have suffered violent deaths, many of them involving alcohol or drugs, during the last six years, including a 15-year-old who was shot to death in 1987 at the same Los Liones site as this month's incident.

"The whole system I participated in as a teen-ager is not available to these kids," said Melodye Kleinman, a mother of three. "There are no jobs, no night ballgames, no dances. Kids want to hang out somewhere."

On the night of the shooting, about 100 teen-agers converged on an isolated piece of land at the end of Los Liones Drive. Many had gone to a private party in the area, which broke up after neighbors complained about the noise and a passing car bumped one youth in the street outside the home. The group drifted up Los Liones.

Shortly after 11 p.m., according to Los Angeles Police Lt. Ross Moen, commanding officer of West Los Angeles detectives, a carload of youths drove up in a BMW, letting it be known that they had a dispute with another local youth and were looking for him. Fearing trouble, someone asked them to leave and they drove off, opening fire, Moen said.

McClellan, who had nothing to do with the dispute, was the only teen-ager wounded. Friends drove him to the hospital.

To police, the mass parties are a minor problem, Moen said. "But at the point where there is a shooting, we have a major problem."

"I've been expecting something like that to happen," said a 20-year-old who witnessed the shooting and agreed to talk--as did other witnesses--on condition of anonymity. "Things are getting more violent, and there are a lot of Pali kids out there who really don't have a good sense of what is going on. The ones with guns are among the most naive. It used to be that kids would fight one on one; now 30 kids'll mob on one or break out a weapon."

"Disgusting," added his 19-year-old friend. "These kids think they have to prove something. They're a bunch of little rich kids who see violence on television. . . . They're pretty sick.

"It makes me angry," said a 16-year-old girl who was at the party. "It doesn't surprise me that kids that age have access to guns, but it makes me mad that other people can get injured in what started off as a normal guy fight.

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