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Section of 101 Closed After Shots Are Fired

Officials shut down 15 miles of highway north of Santa Barbara as they search for a sniper.

March 18, 2004|Monte Morin | Times Staff Writer

Shots fired by a sniper at passing vehicles in Santa Barbara County forced authorities to shut down a 15-mile stretch of the 101 Freeway indefinitely Wednesday evening, as SWAT teams combed the area for the gunman.

All residents along the stretch of closed freeway were advised to lock their doors and stay home.

At least three vehicles were struck by gunfire along the highway between Santa Barbara and Las Cruces to the north, near Buellton. A total of six shots were fired. No one was injured, but all traffic on the coastal corridor was rerouted until the sniper is found, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The gunfire began Tuesday, when two vehicles were struck. Motorists initially thought their vehicles had been hit by stones, but forensic experts with the Department of Justice determined that the cars had been hit by bullets. A third vehicle was hit by gunfire just before 7 p.m. Wednesday, and the CHP immediately ordered the freeway closed.

Authorities would not say exactly where the shots were fired, but they were focusing their search on a house near El Capitan Ranch, north of Santa Barbara and were trying to make phone contact with anyone inside.

The CHP barricaded the freeway at the junction of California 154 in Santa Barbara to the junction of the Pacific Coast Highway in Las Cruces, and said it would remain closed today if the shooter remained at large.

"We don't want anybody shooting more rounds at passing vehicles," said CHP Officer Don Clotworthy. "The freeway is going to stay closed until we get somebody in custody."

The closed section of the highway is the main route to UC Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara airport.

The search was hampered by heavy fog, and traffic backed up as motorists were detoured.

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