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A Tale of Terror, Death on the Freeway : Woman Gives Chilling Account of Shooting

Times Staff Writers

As investigators hunted for the tailgating driver who gunned down her boyfriend, Sandra Leigh Tait recounted a chilling tale Monday of random violence on the Santa Ana Freeway.

Rick Lane Bynum, 24, an automotive machinist who lived with Tait in Orange, was shot about 9:45 p.m. Saturday on the freeway in Santa Fe Springs and was declared dead outside a roadside restaurant to which Tait drove for help. His 3-year-old son, along on a Father’s Day visit, was with him in the car.

The gunman apparently was angry because Tait would not get out of the fast lane and allow him to pass.

“Just all of a sudden, there he was,” Tait, 18, said in an interview Monday at the Lakewood home of Bynum’s parents, tears sometimes interrupting her account. She said she had been driving 65 m.p.h. in the southbound fast lane when the tailgater appeared out of nowhere, “so close I couldn’t see the headlights.”

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Bynum turned around and said, “ ‘What’s that jerk doing? Slow down and let this car go around,’ ” Tait said.

So she braked to allow the car to pass, she said, because traffic prohibited her from changing lanes. The tailgater flashed his lights and then pulled alongside her car, she said.

Suddenly there was a shot, Tait said. The couple turned toward the burst, and the window collapsed. Then came a second shot, and Bynum put his hands to his face.

“I looked over and couldn’t see anything,” Tait said. Then, she said, she asked him, “Are you OK?”

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His face in his hands, Bynum shook his head, she said.

“What’s the matter, you can’t talk to me,” she asked. Bynum again shook his head, she said, and then slumped toward her.

It appeared, Tait said, that the gunman accomplished exactly what he had set out to do. “That was his aim that night,” she sobbed. “To kill.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigators said it appeared that the tailgating driver was angered by Tait’s slower-moving car. A spokesman said that there has been no arrest but that investigators were following leads. Detectives had received about 100 calls by late Monday from people offering information.

Bynum was recently divorced but had custody of his son every other weekend, his relatives said Monday. Bynum “worshiped his baby,” said Lana Bynum, his mother. “The baby was worth everything to him.”

Bynum had begun the Father’s Day weekend celebration on Saturday, Tait said, with a visit to his parents’ home. He brought with him gifts and a card and his son, Rick Lane Bynum Jr.

Tait said she had spent Saturday sunbathing at the Santa Fe Springs home of a girlfriend. The couple--who had been seeing each other for about a year and planned to marry when they “got ourselves a little more settled,” according to Tait--met later in Santa Fe Springs and piled into the car to head back to Orange.

The shooting happened only a few miles away.

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With Bynum slumped over in the front seat and his son in the back, Tait pulled the car onto the center divider of the freeway, jumped out and waved her hands, trying to flag down help. After several minutes, Tait said, no one stopped and “I needed to do something.”

Not knowing if Bynum was dead or alive, Tait pulled back onto the freeway and exited at the next off-ramp. She said she believes that Rick Jr. was dozing in the back seat when the shots were fired and added that he was in a daze by the time she reached the restaurant.

“I was so thrilled to see the Denny’s sign because there were people there,” she recalled.

With Rick Jr. in tow, Tait rushed into the restaurant “hollering like an idiot” that she needed help. Several patrons rose from their tables and rushed to the car outside, peering in to examine Bynum, Tait said. She made the child remain indoors and ran after the diners, who expressed regret and prevented her from approaching the car.

Said Tait’s mother, Mildred P. Tait: “She was expecting the whole time that someone would say he’s all right. And no one said that.”

Bynum was declared dead at the restaurant, sheriff’s deputies said. They described the assailant as a dark-haired man with a mustache. Tait described his car as a yellow Toyota, 1980-82, possibly with primer spots on the right-rear quarter panel.

The senselessness of the attack left Bynum’s mother and his aunt, Nadine Elizabeth Spolar, baffled and tormented.

“We just want to survive to bury him,” Lana Bynum said Monday. “It’s so hard. We don’t understand when someone is 24 and suddenly their life is gone. We don’t understand.”

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