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Surge in slayings is rare, police say

Fourteen people were slain in L.A. County over the weekend.

June 10, 2008|Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

In the wake of 14 killings that occurred across Los Angeles County this weekend -- most within the city of Los Angeles -- authorities attempted to reassure the public Monday that the spike in violence was rare and no cause for alarm.

Los Angeles Police Department Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger said that while homicides were up 8% so far this year, overall violent crime -- as well as shootings -- was down.

He called the recent spike in violence that left 10 dead in the city "troubling but an anomaly."

"It was a very challenging weekend," Paysinger told reporters at Parker Center. "But there is no reason to panic. This is a spike we periodically see in this city."

Killings were also reported in Inglewood, Long Beach and two cities patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department: Baldwin Park and Walnut Park. Also, an hour after the 2:30 p.m. news conference Monday, two people were shot and wounded near the junction of the Metro Blue and Green lines in Willowbrook, according to the Sheriff's Department.

Most of the victims died from gunfire, including Michael Smith, 20, who was killed in a drive-by shooting Saturday near 95th Street and Vermont Avenue after escorting a woman to a bus stop.

Similarly, Johnny Ray Lopez was approached Sunday afternoon in Panorama City by a man on a bicycle who asked Lopez where he was from and then fired a handgun multiple times into his midsection. Family members say Lopez had no gang ties.

Others died in domestic disputes. In one incident, a 20-year-old North Hollywood man was hit over the head with a bottle and stabbed with a knife Saturday night. Police said the suspect was angry that the victim was dating his mother.

Another man was shot in the mouth and chest in downtown Los Angeles. That assailant was allegedly angry the victim was flirting with his girlfriend.

LAPD officials say the homicide rate this year has fluctuated. In March, it was 27% higher than the previous year. So far this year, the homicide rate is 8% higher than the same period last year, with 175 killings compared with 162 last year, according to the LAPD.

Paysinger said the last time killings reached the double digits over a weekend was in January, amid gang clashes in Watts and northeast Los Angeles. Beyond those incidents, there are no clear patterns emerging from this year's figures, authorities say.

UC Irvine professor George Tita said that despite the recent spikes, the trend toward overall reduced violence appeared to be holding. "There's no common thread linking them," Tita said of the slayings. "With respect to policing, these [killings] are tough to predict, understand and intervene in."

But on the streets of the northwest Valley and South L.A., some residents say gang activity -- a frequent common denominator -- is getting worse.

Along the 8400 block of Dorrington Street in Panorama City, where Johnny Lopez was gunned down, neighbors say such violence is new to them.

Lynn Dumaop, a laboratory assistant who lives at Truesdale Street and Dorrington, said her children saw Lopez being shot and ran to help him.

Her 14-year-old son saw six blood spots on Lopez's white T-shirt, heard his breathing slow, took his pulse, which was fading, and called 911.

"My kids grew up here, and this is the first time we heard gunshots," said Dumaop, who has lived in the neighborhood with her husband and parents for more than a decade.

After the shooting, she told her 16-year-old daughter to stop taking her evening walk.

"Gang members, when they see a person in the street, they go for them," Dumaop said.

Security guard Apai Pinwattana, 56, moved to the block a decade ago from El Monte. He first noticed problems during the last month, when gang graffiti began appearing on his neighbor's walls and fences. Many of his neighbors are fellow immigrants from Thailand, Mexico and Korea, who work as nurses, mechanics and letter carriers.

Pinwattana said police cannot solve the problem. He wishes neighbors would call a community meeting, as his former neighbors did after shootings and other violence in El Monte. "Because it never happened before, we have not had a meeting," Pinwattana said, but, "the neighbors have to help each other first," before turning to police.

Jesus Torres, 16, a junior at Cal Poly High School, lives on Dorrington and said he has learned to be wary of possible gang members who drive by him on the street. After the shooting, his father told him to stop jogging after dark.

"He didn't want me to be mistaken for the wrong person," Torres said as he walked past the site where Lopez was shot.

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molly.hennessy-fiske @latimes.com

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andrew.blankstein @latimes.com

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