Five suspected members of a South Los Angeles street gang drove a stolen truck through the front of a Northridge gun shop before dawn Thursday and made off with at least 16 collectors’ guns in what police speculated was an effort to “rearm” following a crackdown on gang activities on their home turf.
The 3:55 a.m. break-in was preceded by burglaries at two other San Fernando Valley stores in which trucks were also used as battering rams, Los Angeles police said. In one theft, $58,000 worth of computer equipment was stolen; in the other the bandits made off with an undetermined number of television sets and videocassette recorders, police said.
Police suspect that all three burglaries were carried out by separate members of the same gang.
Neighbor Called Police
Awakened by the sound of shattering glass, a neighbor called police after the gun thieves rammed the back of their stolen pickup truck into the front of the National Gun Sales Ltd. store on Parthenia Street.
Scooping up an assortment of weapons, the intruders escaped minutes later, just as police arrived. They were chased to a residential neighborhood near Parthenia Street and Whitaker Avenue, where they abandoned the vehicle and fled in different directions.
A police officer fired two shots at one of the suspects, but a police spokesman said no one was hit. Lt. Vernon Higbee said Ronald E. Benjamin, 19, was found hiding in a tree after heavily armed police closed off the neighborhood, combing the streets with the help of two police dogs. In all, 26 officers and two K-9 teams from three police divisions were mobilized to mount a 20-block search for the burglars.
The remaining suspects escaped, apparently by climbing into a wash and sneaking out of the neighborhood, Higbee said. The search was called off at 7:15 a.m.
Fourteen rifles, two revolvers and several bayonets, mostly pre-World War I collectors’ items, were recovered from the back of the truck. Police said they do not know whether that represents all of the guns stolen from the store.
Benjamin, 19, who reportedly told police he and the others were members of a Southside Crips gang, was booked on suspicion of burglary and held at the Devonshire Division station in lieu of $100,000 bail.
Police said they suspect that the raid on the gun shop may have been prompted in part by a recent crackdown on gang activity in South Los Angeles.
“There’s a good possibility that they (burglarized the gun shop) to rearm themselves,” Higbee said. “This kind of thing is a standard MO for gangs out of the South Central area.”
Lt. Dan Cooke, a police spokesman, confirmed that a large number of guns had been seized in recent raids on the homes of gang members in the South Central area.
All three early-morning burglaries are believed to have been committed by separate teams of the same gang.
Shortly after midnight, $58,000 in computer equipment was stolen from the Tektronix computer store in the 20900 block of Victory Boulevard in Woodland Hills after a truck was driven through the front door, police Detective Bill Windham said. Later, television sets and videocassette recorders were stolen after a truck was driven through the front of an appliance store in the 8200 block of White Oak Avenue in Northridge, Windam said. In both cases, the burglars got away.
Higbee said Los Angeles street gangs are known for using trucks as battering rams in burglaries.
Higbee said the burglars probably were not looking for antique guns when they broke into the Northridge shop. But, after finding the store’s modern weapons to be locked behind a metal gate, they stole an assortment of mostly pre-World War I guns from an unguarded office.