A motorist was shot in the neck early Sunday on the Costa Mesa Freeway in Tustin, the latest in what law enforcement officials say is a rash of seemingly random car-to-car gunfire in Southern California.
The 32-year-old Tustin man drove three miles to a hospital in Orange after the 1:45 a.m. shooting and was expected to live, said Tustin Police Sgt. Charlie Celano.
At least four other men have died in similar incidents in the last six weeks, including one killed at the same place as Sunday's shooting, in the northbound lanes between the Santa Ana Freeway interchange and the 17th Street exit.
Previous shootings occurred on the Harbor Freeway in South Los Angeles, where officers have since boosted patrols, and in Riverside.
Authorities said Sunday there was no evidence the freeway shootings were related, nor did they indicate any possible motives. Three shootings happened in the early afternoon, two others in the early morning. Two victims drove sports cars, two others were in sport utility vehicles, and one was in a sedan. Four of the victims were alone in their cars.
No one has been arrested -- attesting to the difficulty police have in solving crimes committed on roads where evidence scatters quickly and witnesses are scarce.
Even if investigators are able to find witnesses, authorities said, motorists might only have glimpsed something peripherally and have little specific recollection.
"You see something and you pass it before you can really think about what you saw," said Det. Sal LaBarbera, who is investigating a freeway slaying in South Los Angeles.
Riverside Police Lt. Mark Boyer agreed.
"Freeway shootings are more difficult than most," he said. "Suspects can get a large distance away really fast, and the wind kicks up sand and dirt that can quickly contaminate the crime scene."
Although freeway assaults and gunfire aren't uncommon, one Los Angeles detective said, it is unusual to have so many deaths from such shootings in such a short span of time.
"These deaths are bringing a lot of attention to these sorts of incidents, but it's not any kind of epidemic," LaBarbera said. "Drivers don't need to fear the freeways."
Riverside police are investigating an early Friday morning shooting on the 60 Freeway that left a San Bernardino man dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Ricky Smith, 32, had been driving west with his window rolled down when someone in the car beside him fired at least five shots toward his sport utility vehicle.
Witnesses have told police that the shooter's vehicle was a newer-model dark red, burgundy or brown Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a license plate number starting with 4 and ending with 9.
Police in South Los Angeles are still investigating two fatal shootings within two weeks on the Harbor Freeway.
In the first, Long Beach college student Michael Livingston, 20, was shot about 2 p.m. March 29 on the northbound freeway near the Manchester Avenue offramp, as he was on his way to visit a childhood friend. Witnesses said the gunman's vehicle was possibly a dark gray 1996 Lincoln Town Car with tinted windows and wire rims.
Another driver was killed and his passenger wounded April 13 five miles south of the earlier shooting. From five to eight shots were fired into 47-year-old James Wiggins' Pontiac, sending it slamming into a freeway sound wall.
Police said they were working on "several good leads" in the shooting and believed it was the result of road rage.
The victim in Sunday's shooting told police he had been looking for a fast-food restaurant when he saw a silver, late-model Toyota extended-cab pickup, possibly a Tundra or a Tacoma, following him. To avoid the other vehicle, he got on the freeway, where he heard gunfire and windows shattering before realizing he had been shot, Celano said.
"There was no altercation or confrontation before the shooting," Celano said. "Afterward, the victim was speeding and doing everything he could to get away from the suspect's vehicle."
The man drove himself to Chapman Medical Center in Orange, then was taken to Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, where his wounds were considered serious but not life-threatening, Celano said.
The investigation is still open on the March 12 shooting at virtually the same location that left 26-year-old Fontana engineer Jake Tuason dead from a .22-caliber bullet wound to the left side of his skull. He was shot about 1 p.m., apparently from an adjacent car in the carpool lane.
Tuason crashed into a wall and drove up and across an embankment. He was taken to Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, where emergency room staff thought they were simply treating a car crash victim until they saw the bullet in his head.
Although road rage and gang activity are not known to have preceded four of the five shootings, the vast majority of such incidents start with some sort of traffic violation such as tailgating or cutting someone off, Boyer said.
"People can go from just driving along to really angry really fast," he said.
Freeway shootings that aren't tied to road rage are scarier to motorists because of their unpredictability, LaBarbera said.
"If people are bent on that kind of violence, how can you prevent it?" he said. "It can be spooky."
Anyone with information about the Tustin shooting is asked to call police anonymously at (714) 573-3251.