"When I fell I thought this was my last day," she said. "He was standing over me with the gun and I don't know if God saved me or what but he left . . . and I ran as fast as I could home."
Lillia Castillo has managed an apartment building at 5th and Catalina streets for 11 years and she said that gang graffiti, rather than assaults, are the area's most nettlesome problem. Still, she said she warns her tenants to "always look to see if anyone is there before you get out of your car when you come home from work because someone might try to hold you up."
The greatest concentration of rapes in the Central Bureau, 10, occurred in an area just north of the city boundary with Vernon that is patrolled by officers from the Hollenbeck Division. But the reported incidence of that crime seemed almost random, with a few being reported in most districts.
In some areas, police believe they are gaining the upper hand. Chinatown had the unwelcome distinction of reporting the highest number of robberies in the Central Bureau last year, with 221. But with the help of bicycle patrol officers deployed in February, police arrested four gang members who they believe were responsible for a large number of those crimes.
Typically, said Detective Lt. Dave Rock, the thieves would spot a vulnerable pedestrian, confront the victim with guns, demand jewelry or a purse or wallet and then jump into a car and drive away. Robberies are down 70% in the past two months, he said.
Annie Jeng, a Chinatown merchant for the past 15 years, remains wary. She knows of many elderly people who have been robbed at the bus stations in the area and she was attacked two years ago on Hill Street by two young men who ran past her and grabbed a gold necklace purchased on a trip to Italy.
Now, she said, she never walks the streets after dark and she "wouldn't dare to wear any gold jewelry. It's just too dangerous."
'Painting out graffiti sounds like a simple chore, but in the Yucca Corridor it's still a dangerous chore.'
When the 70-year-old retired legal secretary takes her dog for a nightly walk in her Hollywood neighborhood, she takes along a companion: An ice pick.
"A police officer told me to do that," says the woman, who lives near Las Palmas Avenue and Yucca Street, the vortex of criminal activity in the place the Police Department calls Reporting District 636.
It tops the entire western part of the city in aggravated assaults, robberies and rapes.
The only violent crime in which it did not lead the West Bureau last year was murder. That dubious distinction was jointly held by Reporting District 1414 in the Oakwood section of Venice, where there was a gang war late last year, and Reporting District 667 in the southeastern part of Hollywood. Both had seven murders.
Ask residents and police what accounts for all the crime in the Yucca Corridor, and they tend to give the same answer: gangs and drugs.
Some victims are drug buyers getting assaulted and robbed, said Mike Shea, a senior lead officer in the Hollywood Division. Others are youthful, weekend cruisers from nearby Hollywood Boulevard who get into fights, which "pumps up the statistics," said Detective Bernard Rogers.
The Yucca Corridor has been dominated for several years by the 18th Street Gang, according to Sharon Romano, leader of the Hollywood Beautification Team, a community organization that has been battling the gang for years.
On Saturday, representatives of the Beautification Team were out painting over gang graffiti in an attempt to clean up the neighborhood and to remove--if only temporarily--signs of the gang's hegemony.
"They've harassed us on the streets, pulled guns on us and kicked our paint cans over," Romano said. "Painting out graffiti sounds like a simple chore, but in the Yucca Corridor it's still a dangerous chore."
A week ago, a Beautification Team painted over all the graffiti on the corner of Wilcox and Yucca.
"It was immaculate," said Officer Shea. "But it lasted just 36 hours. If you don't repaint it, dumb as it seems, it will get worse. That's the whole idea behind community-based policing. You at least have to keep it in check."
On Thursday night, LAPD representatives told about 60 residents that they are about to launch a concerted push in the corridor.
"Starting May 5 through the first week of July, you'll see more police in this area than you ever have before," Officer Mark Severino told those gathered at the Las Palmas Senior Center.
This will include added patrol cops, officers from the anti-gang CRASH unit, members of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as well as undercover narcotics agents.
"I am the case agent for your problem," but hardly the sole solution to the problem, said Severino, who works with FALCON, a multi-agency narcotics abatement task force comprising personnel from the LAPD, the city attorney's office and the Department of Building and Safety, which tries to link up with community organizations.