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Gunman fires on motorists, others at Hollywood intersection

Video taken by pedestrians captures a gunman striding down the street and shooting at passing motorists. The suspect, also clutching a knife, is shot dead by police. A victim is in critical condition.

December 10, 2011|By Sam Quinones, Richard Winton and Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times
  • LAPD Det. Nicole Kittle stands next to the body of a man suspected of shooting at passing motorists in a Hollywood intersection before he was shot to death by police. One man driving a Mercedes-Benz was critically wounded.
LAPD Det. Nicole Kittle stands next to the body of a man suspected of shooting… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

Wearing a white tank top and walking through one of Hollywood's most famous intersections with a gun in his right hand, the man shown in the video calmly spins on his heels and fires off a single shot as the black pickup passes by.

Then he casually strides down the middle of the street, never glancing back. The brief but intense video — one of dozens of images of the Friday morning violence in Hollywood — comes to an abrupt end before police arrive and open fire, killing the man.

Witnesses described the chaotic scene in the heart of Hollywood as both terrifying and surreal as the gunman walked down the street and paused at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, randomly shooting at passing motorists. A 40-year-old man, driving a Mercedes-Benz, was shot in the jaw and was in critical condition.

As the violence unfolded, pedestrians ducked for cover and drivers slammed on their brakes to avoid the gunman. Dozens of people, many of whom captured the shooting on video or described it vividly in Tweets, said it didn't even seem real at first.

"At first it seemed like a movie," said photographer Gregory Bojorquez, who was walking to a bank when he saw people running and screaming that a gunman was on the loose.

"But then you could hear the shots hitting metal," he added.

The suspect, whose body lay wrapped in a white sheet on Vine for several hours after he was shot, is a 26-year-old white male from Los Angeles, said LAPD Sgt. Mitzi Fierro. His family has asked his name be withheld until other relatives have been notified. The reason for the shooting remains less than clear. Fierro said detectives are interviewing his friends. Two officers fired shots at the man who was armed with a gun and knife.

"He wanted to die a loud death," said Trey Beffa, co-owner of K&L Wine Merchants on Vine Street, who said he was taking an order for Cabernet from a customer when he noticed the gunman, who was also clutching a knife, marching up the street, firing indiscriminately.

Police said they began receiving calls of a gunman firing at cars on Vine south of Sunset at about 10:15 a.m.

Shopkeeper Alex Gopstein said he first spotted the suspect standing in front of Hollywood Pawn Brokers, pointing a gun in the air and firing indiscriminately. The gunman, Gopstein said, then walked toward Sunset and started shooting at passing cars.

In all, police said, the gunman shot at or pointed his gun at more than a dozen motorists. One was hit. Pedestrians and merchants said they found it stunning that more people weren't injured, given the close-range shots the gunman fired.

Video of the scene, shot by witnesses, shows cars swerving or braking near the gunman. One driver veers toward the curb; another stops suddenly before turning around and driving off in the other direction. One motorist described in a Tweet how he threw his car in reverse, backing for a full block before spinning his car around and speeding away.

Pedestrians said they ducked into shops or diners to get out of harm's way.

Beffa said he watched in horror from his shop as a customer left a Bank of America at Sunset and Vine, apparently unaware what was happening, and walked to his car.

The gunman, Beffa said, "walked up to him when he was in his car and started yelling at him and fired point-blank range." He said he shot the car several times, the bullets shattering windows.

Bojorquez, the photographer, said that when he spotted a plainclothes officer emerge from his squad car, he pointed toward the gunman walking down the street and yelled out: "That is the guy"

The suspect, Bojorquez said, ignored officers' commands to get on the ground and surrender. "He was screaming that he was going to die and that he wanted to die," Bojorquez said.

Serge Durand, an Atlanta resident who was filming the scene from a nearby apartment, said he heard the gunman ask: "Is this the end?"

Police then fired.

Even after he was shot, Beffa said, the gunman kept yelling and running.

"He still had the gun in his hand," the wine merchant said. "You could see the blood on his white shirt. At that point, they finished him off."

"The officer shot like four times" Bojorquez said. "That officer saved a lot of lives."

The shooting, resembling a Hollywood movie and taking place near the ArcLight Cinemas and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Pickford Center, struck many as surreal.

"When I heard it, I didn't react to it being real," said Greg Watkins, a student at the Los Angeles Recording School who was walking on the street and had just removed his headphones to take a call from his girlfriend.

"This is Hollywood and they do film stuff all the time. I honestly thought they were filming something."

Emmanuel Fierro, 21, staying with a friend in an apartment above the intersection, said he walks Sunset nearly every day.

"I couldn't believe what was happening," he said. "But I guess this is Hollywood."

sam.quinones@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Staff writer Angel Jennings contributed to this report.

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