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CHP Officer Attacked; Shoots Driver at Offramp

Violence: The motorist attempted to run down patrolman, officials say, before shots were fired.

May 02, 1997|SOLOMON MOORE and BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — A California Highway Patrol officer shot and critically wounded a speeding driver near Universal City on Thursday after the man allegedly tried to ram the officer with his car, authorities and a witness said.

The driver was shot in the chest and the arm in his car on the Vineland Avenue offramp of the Hollywood Freeway. He was listed in critical condition at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center with a punctured lung, broken rib and an injury to his right bicep, CHP officials said.

Authorities have not released the names of the driver or CHP officer.

The officer, who has worked at the CHP's West Valley office in Woodland Hills for the past eight years, had tried to stop the driver on the southbound Hollywood Freeway at Magnolia Boulevard shortly before noon, CHP officials said. But the driver didn't stop despite the officer's flashing lights.

The officer called for assistance when the driver exited the freeway at Vineland Avenue. When the driver stopped at the bottom of the offramp, the officer got out of his car and walked toward the driver. Then the driver tried to run over the officer, authorities said.

"He drove forward toward the officer, actually striking him with the vehicle," said CHP Officer Dwight MacDonald.

CHP Officer David Derczo added: "In fear for his life, the officer fired his weapon."

A videotape of the shooting broadcast by KTLA-TV showed the driver repeatedly advancing toward the CHP officer as the officer, who had placed himself in front of the car, backed up, ordering the driver to halt. As the car bore down on him, the officer finally pulled his pistol, opened fire and leaped aside.

Some witnesses said they heard seven or eight shots. Seven cartridge casings remained on the street.

"The guy almost drove over him," said Mark Ettlinger, who witnessed the shooting at the Vineland offramp. "He tried to run him over with his car."

Ettlinger said the officer was knocking on the driver's side window, trying to get him to come out.

After he was shot, the man drove his black Pontiac Fiero into a parking lot at Lankershim Boulevard and Moorpark Street about a mile away. He stopped his car, got out and started walking away. He was quickly handcuffed and arrested by police, witnesses said. Paramedics took him to the hospital.

"I walked out front and saw police cars all over the place," said Sam Bell, manager of the Paradise Cafe, about 50 yards from the freeway ramp.

Both the officer and the driver were alone in their cars, CHP officials said.

Routine traffic stops are considered among the most dangerous situations for CHP officers because they have no way of knowing whether drivers will be cooperative or combative.

"There's the unknown element," MacDonald said. "You can't treat every car you stop like it's Charlie Manson who just committed murder. There are decent people out there who make mistakes."

In Thursday's case, CHP officials said the officer properly called for assistance because he believed he might have to chase the driver through city streets, said MacDonald.

"We thought we'd have to pursue this guy for some distance," MacDonald said.

The CHP is investigating the incident and will be interviewing the wounded man, as well as the officer. The Los Angeles Police Department is also investigating the shooting because it occurred within city limits.

The officer, who had been driving on his regular patrol route, has never been involved in a shooting before, officials said.

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