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CHP probing reports of gunfire at cars on freeways

Christina Martinez Adame was driving south on the 405 Freeway near Seal Beach Boulevard on April 27 when she heard a loud boom. She said she believes her rear window was shot out.

“You had glass coming into the car, the power of the wind going through. I felt like our car was caving in,” Adame, 49, said.

Another motorist’s window shattered that day in the same area at about the same time, and these aren’t the only reports of similar incidents.

“Every day, somebody is telling me, ‘This happened to so-and-so.’ ‘It happened to me.’ ‘It happened to another parent,’ ” said Adame, who lives in Los Alamitos.

These accounts have reached investigators at California Highway Patrol offices, who are comparing notes with one another across Southern California in an effort to determine who — or what — is responsible for the damage.

CHP officials say they are hesitant to alert the public about the existence of a serial shooter because while some of the damage shows tell-tale signs of bullets or BB pellets, they say there’s little evidence that those confirmed attacks are related. And in many other cases, the officials say, it’s unclear whether the damage is attributable to gunfire or simply road junk.

Investigators are continuing to look for answers.

“They definitely have been in contact with surrounding areas. They have been using every resource necessary to get things sorted out,” said Officer Dan Olivas, a spokesman for the CHP’s Inland Division.

That can’t come soon enough for Lisa Sanford, 55, a Corona resident who was driving south on the 15 Freeway in Norco just north of the 91 Freeway in March when one of the windows on her SUV exploded.

“I kept hearing ‘crack, crack, crack, crack, crack.’ I was in shock. I was freaking out,” Sanford said.

When she examined the SUV, she found eight strikes from what appeared to have been ammunition from a BB or pellet gun fired at close range from another motorist.

There have been a number of other similar incidents this spring in the Inland Empire.

“It’s well above what you would consider normal,” Olivas said.

So far, he said, no one has been able to link them.

That’s also the case in Orange County.

Adame said one of the CHP officers who examined her car told her, “Oh, wow, that looks like all the other shootings” — a dozen of them in the county in the past week, Adame said she was told.

Officer Mitch Smith, a spokesman for the CHP’s Westminster office, which is investigating Adame’s incident, said investigators there are looking into “approximately five” similar reports spanning April 19 to Tuesday morning, May 4.

“We have no reason to believe they are related. But to call them freeway shootings or similarincidents, it’s unclear at this point,” Smith said.

Green ink marks the places on Lisa Sanford’s SUV where she says gunfire struck her vehicle on the 15 Freeway in Norco. The California Highway Patrol is investigating numerous reports of damage to vehicles from possible freeway shootings in Southern California in recent weeks. (Courtesy of R.D. Walker)

Deadly gunfire

In addition to the April 27 window blowouts on the 405, there certainly have been enough other headline-grabbing incidents to rattle motorists:

• On Aug. 29, a man driving a car on the 405 in Seal Beach was shot to death. Smith said that while he could not elaborate, the circumstances of that incident are far different than others being reported.

• On Dec. 14, the driver of a pickup was killed on the 15 Freeway in Ontario in a shooting that the CHP said it believes might have been a road-rage incident.

• In the early morning hours of April 27, a gunman wounded a driver near USC and killed two others in separate vehicles nearby. He was chased by police and fired on a vehicle on the 10 Freeway in Los Angeles until coming to a stop on the 91 Freeway in Fullerton. There, he and officers exchanged gunfire before he was fatally shot.

• On May 2, a man driving on the 60 Freeway in Industry was shot and injured by someone passing by in another car, according to the CHP.

Adame and Sanford, victims of the window blowouts, said they wonder whether there were more freeway shootings that the CHP hasn’t reported in order to prevent the public from panicking.

But if investigators were to determine there was a serial shooter, said Officer Florentino Olivera, a spokesman for the CHP’s Santa Ana office, which patrols most of OC’s freeways, “We would be calling a press conference here.”

Olivera cautioned that windows can also be smashed by car parts and other trash kicked up by traffic. He knows that first hand after a tire tread crashed through the windshield of his personal car. He urged motorists not to be distracted while driving so they can be on the lookout for road junk.

“Sometimes you can’t prevent it,” Olivera said. “There’s debris all over the roadway.”

If it happens to you

CHP officials say drivers should weigh a number of factors if a window should suddenly break.

If you don’t see a threat, the Inland Division’s Olivas said, pull over right away, particularly if your view of the freeway is impaired.

“If you can exit the freeway safely, even better,” he said.

Call 911 immediately after safely pulling over, Olivas said.

It’s important to provide your exact location to dispatchers so officers can canvass the area for shooters, said Officer Mary Bailey, a spokeswoman for the CHP’s Border Division, which patrols Orange County, southern Riverside County and San Diego County.

And, Bailey said, “We are going to want to see your vehicle. We’re going to want to take pictures and see if we have any evidence. There might be a round in there.”

Source: Orange County Register

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