TOLUCA LAKE — An apartment manager who had waged a neighborhood campaign against car thefts was arrested Thursday on suspicion of murder for allegedly shooting a fleeing thief in the back.
It was the second instance in just more than 10 months in the eastern San Fernando Valley of a citizen shooting someone to death in a street crime incident. In January, William Masters of Sun Valley killed a graffiti vandal he said had threatened him with a screwdriver, an incident that set off a nationwide debate.
In Thursday's shooting, Daniel McDonald, 45, was at home in his apartment in the 10600 block of Moorpark Street about 3:10 a.m. when he and his son Mark, 24, heard a car alarm go off, Los Angeles Police Lt. Ron LaRue said.
Arming himself with a police-type baton, Mark McDonald raced downstairs to the curb, where he found two men inside a car with its alarm activated, police said. The man sitting on the driver's side got out and attacked him, striking him twice on the hand with a screwdriver, LAPD Det. Mike Coffey said.
Mark McDonald struck back twice with his baton, Coffey said. Moments later his father, unaware that his son had been assaulted, arrived, and the thieves fled on foot, Coffey said.
The McDonalds ran after them as they headed west on Moorpark.
During the chase, Daniel McDonald fired an estimated seven shots with a semiautomatic pistol at the two men, Coffey said. Both reacted as though they had been hit, but managed to escape in a waiting car about a block away, Coffey said.
Neighbors described hearing one of the men screaming from the pain of a gunshot wound.
"It was a nasty, wailing scream," said NBC page Ken Chiarito, who heard the sounds from his apartment across the street. "It was something fierce."
The McDonalds reported the incident to police.
Meanwhile, about an hour later, a gunshot victim was dropped off at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, where he died at 5:35 a.m.
Police believe the unidentified man, who had been shot in the back, was one of the car thieves at whom Daniel McDonald fired.
As a result, McDonald, who manages the Heritage Crest apartments, was arrested on suspicion of murder and was being held on $1-million bail. The case will be reviewed by the district attorney's office and a decision will be made by Monday whether to charge McDonald with any crimes.
"The district attorney's office will have to determine whether the force he used was justified or not," Coffey said. "It doesn't appear so right now.
"We're talking about an auto theft here, not a protection of human life."
The shooting and the subsequent arrest of McDonald shocked neighbors and residents of the upscale apartment complex, who described him as "a very personable" manager and "a very nice man."
The gunshots woke Bill Carichner, who manages a nearby apartment building. Carichner said he went to a front window where he saw a man shooting as he pursued two other men headed toward Lankershim Boulevard.
"I think there is a way to handle things," said Carichner as he reflected on the incident. "But you don't just shoot someone else because they are breaking into a car."
But Douglas Cavanaugh, a 27-year-old Heritage Crest tenant, described McDonald as a manager who believed in his rights and would stand up for them if he had to.
"Dan empathized with us," Cavanaugh said in the lobby of the building. "And he was the type of person who would protect his property."
Cavanaugh said McDonald was worried about a rash of cars stolen from the underground garage in the building, and objects stolen from the cars. He said McDonald was particularly disturbed about a windshield that was stolen from a Porsche.
"He would leave memos to all of us reminding us about letting people in the building or the garage," Cavanaugh said."And it wasn't paranoia, he was just doing it for our own benefit."
Coffey described Daniel McDonald on Thursday afternoon as "upset" over the shooting. He said the car that was broken into belonged to somebody who was a guest of a tenant in the building.
Detectives have not been able to locate the dead man's accomplice, who they believe was also wounded. Nor have they found two other men who were waiting in the getaway car.
Investigators acknowledge that the case bears similarities to the shooting of graffiti vandal Cesar Arce, 18, by Masters, a 35-year-old part-time actor and firearms-rights activist who said he usually carried a handgun on his nighttime strolls.
Masters was held on suspicion of murder after the midnight shooting in Sun Valley. But he was released three days later after the district attorney's office ruled that he had acted in self-defense. Prosecutors pointed out that the surviving tagger, who was wounded, agreed he had been carrying a screwdriver when they confronted Masters, and said there was serious doubt a jury would convict him.
The city attorney's office later charged Masters with misdemeanor counts of carrying a loaded and concealed firearm in public. Masters was convicted in October and sentenced to 30 days of graffiti removal, three years' probation and forfeiture of his weapons collection.
The case was widely debated on radio talk shows and elsewhere. Critics accused Masters of being a gun-happy vigilante who was out looking for trouble and shot Arce for no good reason. But he drew an outpouring of public support from those who said they were disgusted with graffiti vandals and regarded him as a hero who refused to be victimized by street thugs.