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New Year’s Eve Fusillade Claims at Least 2 Victims

Times Staff Writer

New Year’s revelers fired weapons in an annual outburst of anarchy that turned sections of Los Angeles County into a virtual battleground, bringing sudden death to at least two people, injuring three others and swamping police with hundreds of complaints.

The fusillade of bullets returning to earth also cut power briefly to about 18,000 households.

Between 11 p.m. Thursday and 3 a.m. Friday, Los Angeles police said 448 complaints about gunfire were reported to central communications, a number that did not take into account complaints reported to division stations, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department or other municipalities.

“It was a madhouse,” declared Sgt. Lloyd McKay, Los Angeles police watch commander at the Newton Division station.

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Officers from his station chased down one suspect--born, fittingly, on New Year’s Day, 29 years earlier--and reportedly nabbed him and his long-barreled Uzi submachine gun and Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver.

Sheriff’s deputies at the Lennox and Firestone stations, which traditionally report heavy New Year’s gunplay, discovered a total of 28 slugs in the stations’ parking lots.

At least two other rounds found a lethal mark.

The first victim was a 24-year-old man who was standing in front of a building in South Los Angeles about 10:30 p.m. on New Years’s Eve. He was struck in the head and killed instantly.

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A 23-year-old man carried a good-luck rabbit’s foot in his pocket, but it did no good. He was standing at the corner of 11th Street and Grand Avenue, just south of downtown Los Angeles, shortly after midnight when a bullet slammed into the top of his skull.

Tomoi Collins, a 17-year-old Inglewood boy riding his bicycle near the intersection of Broadway and 126th Street, was struck in the head about 6:30 p.m. Police said his death may also have been caused by a falling bullet.

“It started earlier than it seemed like it had in the past,” said Sgt. Robert McLin, watch commander of the Carson sheriff’s station. “It seems to be worse than I recall it in the past.

“I guess people just like to shoot their guns. It is indicative of a considerable amount of stupidity. These people don’t know or don’t care that those rounds are going to come down and hurt somebody.”

Gunman Killed

In Southgate, one holiday gunman died in a confrontation with police.

Armed with a shotgun, he was standing on a sidewalk in the 2500 block of Tweedy Avenue about 11:50 p.m. when he spotted two patrol cars, according to the sheriff’s information bureau, which issued the following report:

The man, whose name was not released, pointed the gun at the police. They heard a shot, bailed out of their cars and took cover.

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Southgate Police Officer David Dattola, 24, ordered the man, in English and Spanish, to drop the gun. Instead, he reloaded. He was again given bilingual orders to drop the shotgun, but he pointed it at Dattola. The officer fired one shot, hitting the man in the hip.

As he fell to the ground, a 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol dropped out of the man’s waistband. The man was taken to the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, where he died within an hour. Investigators later found several shell casings fitting his weapons in the immediate vicinity of the incident.

“This is just another sad case of what happens on New Year’s Eve,” said Bill Wehner, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department. “People were warned, ‘Please don’t shoot guns.’ ”

In another case where a midnight shooter apparently brought trouble upon himself, an unidentified man shot himself in the pelvis while tucking a pistol into his belt, according to police.

Three who were hit escaped without serious injuries.

Stray Bullet

About 10:10 p.m., a stray bullet struck a 13-year-old girl, whose identity was not released, while she was sitting on her porch in unincorporated Los Angeles County near Carson. She was treated and released at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Herberto Huarta, 33, who was struck in the neck by a bullet at 11:45 p.m. in South-Central Los Angeles, was reported in satisfactory condition Friday at County-USC Medical Center.

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In Inglewood, police said Officer Terry Hirooka was in his patrol car near Century Boulevard and Prairie Avenue at about 11:25 p.m. when a slug, most of its momentum spent, bounced off his car window and hit his arm. With fly-catcher agility, Hirooka caught the round in his hand.

Others escaped with nothing more than a fright.

Two California Highway Patrol officers had just left their car to check on a stolen car near the intersection of San Pedro Street and Jefferson Boulevard when a .45-caliber bullet dropped through the roof, coming to rest on the back seat.

A paramedic ambulance was struck by a bullet a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles near the Harbor Freeway about 10:30 p.m. No one was injured.

More than 30 shots, possibly fired from an Uzi submachine gun, slammed into an apartment at 362 East 52nd St. about 12:30 p.m., according to Newton watch commander McKay.

“No one was hit, fortunately,” McKay said.

But it was a close call for Ruby Lenore, he said. She in the bathroom, and “the shots went by her head,” McKay said.

Suspect Chased

After the burst of gunfire, neighbors called police, who chased DeJohn Thomas through backyards and caught him as he crossed a street. Witnesses told police that he had been carrying an Uzi submachine gun, and police found one stashed under some debris near the rear of 343 East 53rd St., along with a Smith & Wesson revolver. Thomas was booked on suspicion of possessing a weapon with an altered serial number.

“He was celebrating his birthday,” McKay said. Thomas was born Jan. 1, 1958.

No estimates were available for property damage, but the inconvenience caused by the barrage was considerable.

In Los Angeles, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reported seven instances, ranging from Canoga Park to South-Central Los Angeles, where bullets had either punctured transformers or cut power lines.

A Southern California Edison Co. spokesman said about 18,000 customers suffered outages caused by gunfire and, in addition, metallic balloons released by New Year’s revelers shorted out power for another 5,150. Locations hit hardest were in Southgate, Bellflower, Dominguez Hills, Carson and Compton.

Authorities are investigating to see if any of the ruptured transformers spilled oil containing PCBs, a suspected cancer-causing agent.

In Compton, Sgt. Ron Malachi said officials discovered Friday that a number of windows at the post office had been shot out.

“It is a damn shame,” he said.

In Torrance, a bullet fell through the roof of a home in the southern part of town.

Few Arrests

Despite the widespread nature of complaints, few arrests were made.

Police put the shooting calls on a low priority because they were swamped by the sheer number of shooting complaints and other unrelated calls. It is frequently difficult to identify suspects, according to McLin. Los Angeles police investigated 60 gunfire reports.

One such investigation, by Los Angeles police from the Wilshire Division, led to the arrest of seven people.

Shortly before midnight, neighbors of a house in the 4600 block of West 17th Street reported gunfire from a group of men in the backyard, according to Sgt. Howard Tanner.

Police “looked over the fence and saw the group shooting,” Tanner said.

Booked on suspicion of a misdemeanor violation of Los Angeles Municipal Code banning gunfire in the city limit were Antonio, Martin, Daniel, Angel and Flavio Castaneda; Van Mitchell and a juvenile.

Police confiscated two rifles, a shotgun, three pistols and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

Assorted shell casings littered the yard, police said.


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