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Teen Is Slain in Gun Battle at Restaurant

Three others are shot, including one by an LAPD officer, when a party in Northridge to watch college basketball gets out of control.

March 20, 2004|Karima A. Haynes | Times Staff Writer

An argument between partygoers escalated into a shootout at a Northridge restaurant Thursday night, leaving a 16-year-old boy dead and three people wounded, and sending scores of revelers running for cover.

The gun battle broke out about 11:50 p.m. at El Torito Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, 8855 Tampa Ave., which was packed with young adults celebrating the opening round of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s men's basketball tournament, authorities said Friday.

The teen was fatally shot in the parking lot by an unidentified gunman before police arrived, said Deputy Chief Ronald W. Bergmann, commander of the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Bureau. The youth's identity was being withheld pending notification of his relatives.

The three other shooting victims were taken to local hospitals, where they were expected to recover, Bergmann said. One victim was wounded by an LAPD officer whose identity was not released; the other victims were shot by an unknown assailant.

At least 150 people were detained for questioning after the shootout, which prompted the closure of Tampa Avenue between Nordhoff and Parthenia streets.

Earlier this week, glossy fliers were circulated on the Cal State Northridge campus and in surrounding neighborhoods, aiming to lure young people to the restaurant on Thursday night. The identity of the event organizer is being investigated, police said.

The LAPD Devonshire Division's senior lead officer met with El Torito managers early Thursday, Bergmann said, and warned them to take precautions to keep the event under control.

The restaurant's managers assured police that they had adequate security to handle the 125 patrons who were expected to show up, Bergmann said.

But nearly 400 young people descended on El Torito to drink, dance and cheer college basketball teams, authorities said.

It was unclear Friday whether restaurant managers tried to control the crowd, some members of which were known gang members, authorities said.

Shortly before midnight, an argument broke out among partygoers on a tiny dance floor, Bergmann said. The quarrel escalated into a free-for-all in the parking lot, where one male patron went to a car to get a gun and began firing rounds into the crowd.

"The parking lot was packed with people and I heard the gunshots," said Shakoya Brown, 19, a freshman at Cal State Northridge, who along with her friend LaToya Hicks, 19, of Compton, dove for cover in the back of a pickup truck.

"It was crazy," said Brown, who returned to El Torito on Friday morning to retrieve her car. "It was like a stampede."

Two LAPD officers patrolling the area immediately called for help and several units rushed to the scene, Bergmann said.

Two revolvers and casings from a semiautomatic weapon were found at the scene and several cars were impounded, Bergmann said.

By late Friday afternoon, the closed portion of Tampa Avenue had reopened, police said.

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