By the time they stopped firing, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, Hawthorne police and California Highway Patrol officers had shot Michael William Arnold 106 times.
Arnold, 39, was struck seven times in the head and neck, 50 times in the torso and dozens of times in other parts of his body. An autopsy found that at least 55 of the wounds were serious enough to be fatal.
Bullets also flew through the Hawthorne neighborhood near 118th Street and Prairie Avenue, across the street from York Elementary School, where Arnold was shot.
One round ripped through the outer wall of an apartment building two blocks away and continued through a bedroom wall, coming to rest on a bunk bed next to a sleeping teenager. Two other children slept in the bedroom.
Several expended rounds were found in the building's stairwell, and bullets hit at least three other buildings in the area.
"This strikes me as an extraordinary case of overkill," said San Bernardino County's chief medical examiner, Dr. Frank Sheridan, who volunteered his services to Arnold's mother, Constance Flaum. "I have seen many cases of multiple gunshot wounds. I have never seen a shooting to even approach this one. It's incredible."
That interest by Sheridan, plus lawsuits filed by Arnold's wife and mother, have renewed interest in a death that occurred March 27, 1998, but except for an initial rash of news stories, faded from public view.
The incident leading to Arnold's death began shortly after 2 a.m. when he stopped his white Lincoln Town Car on the transition road from the southbound San Diego Freeway to the eastbound Century Freeway.
For nearly an hour he behaved irrationally on the ramp, straddling a railing at one point and waving what looked like a handgun. He appeared to be suicidal, sitting on the railing as though he were about to jump and pointing the gun at his head.
Police radios crackled with reports of a man with a gun who was firing at a police helicopter overhead and at deputies on the ground. Two deputies below the freeway at La Cienega Boulevard and Imperial Highway fired at Arnold on the 100-foot-high ramp. They reported hearing rounds from his weapon hitting concrete and metal near them.
After Arnold was shot to death, the only weapon recovered from him turned out to be an air pistol--a BB gun.
Several hours after the shooting, a Sheriff's Department spokesman told television reporters that deputies "were in obvious fear for their own safety and the safety of other citizens who may have been in the area."
The spokesman said Arnold "fired numerous rounds at the deputies on La Cienega and Imperial. He was a definite threat to those officers."
Arnold's wife, Eileen, said her husband was a recovering alcoholic who was taking a medication that made him very ill if he drank. He had reportedly been sober for four months, but on the day before he was killed, for reasons that are unclear to his relatives, he had been drinking.
"Something had depressed him that day," said Robert G. Leff, an attorney who represents Eileen Arnold. "We don't know. He was acting irrational. He was a bit disoriented."
Arnold's mother said he had attempted suicide five years ago by slitting his wrists and his throat when he learned that he had liver failure.
An autopsy showed that his blood alcohol level was 0.17% when he was killed, more than twice the legal limit for driving.
While on the freeway ramp, he called his wife at their Hollywood home on his cellular phone at 3:05 a.m., she recalled, and said: "I'm sick. All these police are around me. Please come and get me."
She said she did not know where the interchange was and told him to leave the freeway and go to a gas station where she could pick him up.
"Then I never heard from him again," she said.
She said she was unable to sleep because of worrying about him, and the next morning saw their car on television.
"They were reporting that the driver had been killed," she said. "I was just screaming."
A Low-Speed Pursuit
Her husband managed property and kept air pistols to scare off pigeons and small animals, she said. When she spoke to him on the freeway by telephone, he did not mention that he had an air pistol in his hand, she said.
She and Arnold had just opened a retreat for people recovering from plastic surgery, she said.
Arnold left the Century Freeway at the Prairie Avenue exit, driving about 20 mph by one officer's estimate, according to a sheriff's homicide investigator's report obtained by The Times. Several patrol cars joined the slow pursuit. Arnold drove south several blocks to 118th Street and turned right, stopping his car at the side of a wholesale meat company about 3:15 a.m.
Officers said he got out of his car and ignored their orders to drop his weapon. Several officers said they fired after Arnold aimed the gun directly at them, according to the sheriff's homicide report. They said they feared for their lives and for the lives of their fellow officers.