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Series of Attacks on Cars Continue on Area Freeways

Crime: CHP has no suspects in breakage of windows that began Sept. 11. It is unsure what projectiles are being used.


Somebody is sniping at an alarmingly high number of Los Angeles-area freeway motorists--not with a conventional firearm, but with rocks. Or BB guns. Or pellets.

A bewildered California Highway Patrol reports that in the past two weeks, at least 54 freeway drivers from the San Gabriel Valley to the Westside have had their rear windows shattered by unidentified projectiles.

Investigators have identified no pattern, no trend and no suspects in the series of attacks that began Sept. 11. All they know is that a person or, more likely, one or more groups of people have aimed objects at moving vehicles, probably from hidden spots along freeway perimeters.

Authorities worry that the attacks--which many motorists have interpreted as gunshots--may cause accidents, and vow to prosecute the crimes as felonies.

"There are unscrupulous people . . . who are trying for whatever reason to cause havoc on our freeways," CHP Sgt. Ernie Garcia said. "For what purpose, I don't know. All this can cause is a terrible tragedy."

Victims say they did not see the projectiles coming from another car, nor were most of those attacked near bridges or overpasses, ruling out those spots as launching sites.

"They seem to come from nowhere," Garcia said. "So it would have to come from the perimeter of the freeway."

Gunfire on Southland freeways is not new, although apart from a well-publicized rash of freeway shootings in the summer of 1987, such incidents are infrequent. What is novel about the current spree is the tactics and frequency.

"To get a call like the ones we've been hearing is so rare, it's almost nonexistent," Garcia said.

The series of attacks began when the CHP had seven reports of blown-out rear windows--from 8:45 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sept. 11, beginning on the San Bernardino Freeway in San Bernardino County, moving through the San Gabriel Valley and ending up on the Santa Monica Freeway, in the Jefferson Park area of Los Angeles.

Between then and the early morning of Sept. 16, nine more cars were hit in the western San Gabriel Valley, southeastern Los Angeles County and East and Central Los Angeles.

The freeways were back to normal again until this past weekend. On Friday night, 10 motorists reported hits to their rear windows. By Monday night, the total had reached at least 47.

And by late Tuesday, starting about 8:15 p.m., seven more motorists reported to CHP officials that their car windows had been shattered.

Despite the large number of attacks, authorities have been unable to determine what weapons have been used, Garcia said. Regular guns have been ruled out because investigators have not found spent rounds, bullet fragments or bullet holes. But BB and pellet guns are still possibilities because they can shatter a window and bounce off without leaving fragments for investigators to find.

Slingshots are another possible weapon, especially the fast, powerful and accurate arm-mounted variety, such as the "Wrist Rocket," Garcia said.

Also unknown is the number of attackers. The increasing number of incidents, and the ever-shorter period of time in which they were reported to have occurred, could mean that an original group split up or that copycats have joined in the fray.

Since the late 1980s, violence on American roadways has taken an ugly turn--including outright attacks and vicious teenage pranks.

In 1987, the CHP faced a similar series of freeway attacks, but ones with far more serious consequences. In 16 random incidents along Southern California roadways, five people died and at least a dozen people were injured by gunfire.

Then in 1992, in Jacksonville, Fla., teenage gangs were accused of sniper and rock-throwing incidents along Interstate 295. In all, 36 cars were struck, prompting a warning from the American Automobile Assn. that motorists stay off 13 miles of the roadway.

In Southern California, with hundreds of miles of freeways to patrol, CHP officers are beefing up air and ground patrols, especially along freeway perimeters.

"What the people who are doing this don't realize is that when they are caught--and they will be caught--they face very serious felony charges," Garcia said, adding that if anyone is hurt in an incident or ensuing collision, the charge could go as high as attempted murder. "These are not going to be considered pranks."


Freeway Incidents

The California Highway Patrol reports that since Sept. 11 at least 47 freeway drivers have had their rear windows shattered by unidentified projectiles. Officers have found no pattern and no likely suspects in the attacks. Here is a look at the incidents reported Monday.

1) 3:10 p.m.; southbound San Diego just south of Crenshaw Blvd.

2) 9 p.m.; northbound Hollywood at Santa Monica Blvd.

3) 9:05 p.m.; eastbound Century just west of Wilmington Ave.

4) 9:12 p.m.; southbound Harbor at Century Blvd.

5) 9:14 p.m.; northbound Hollywood Freeway at Western Ave.

6) 9:18 p.m.; southbound Harbor just north of the Santa Monica

7) 9:30 p.m.; eastbound Century at the Long Beach

8) 9:40 p.m.; westbound San Bernardino at the Long Beach

9) 9:46 p.m.; eastbound San Bernardino at Atlantic Ave.

10) 9:55 p.m.; northbound Hollywood at Benton Way

11) 10:08 p.m.; southbound Hollywood just north of 1st St.

12) 10:15 p.m.; northbound Harbor at Adams Blvd.

13) 10:29 p.m.; westbound Century just east of the Harbor

14) 11:10 p.m.; northbound Harbor at the Santa Monica

15) 11:15 p.m.; westbound Santa Monica at Fairfax Ave.

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