A Long Beach woman walking along a crowded Westwood street after having dinner with a friend Saturday night was fatally shot in the head by gang-related gunfire, authorities said Sunday.
Karen Toshima, 27, who police called “an innocent bystander,” was rushed to nearby UCLA Medical Center, where she died about 11 a.m. Sunday, hospital spokesman Rich Elbaum said. Her companion, a 30-year-old Monterey Park man whose identity was not released, was uninjured.
Los Angeles police took dozens of people into custody for questioning, including a group of suspected gang members, but made no arrests. The incident was being investigated by the police anti-gang CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) unit.
“There were confrontations between various people all night” before the shooting, Sgt. Bill Humphry said.
Police said the couple had left a restaurant and joined the Saturday night throngs in the brightly lit streets of Westwood Village, a bustling area of movie theaters, restaurants and shops adjoining the UCLA campus, when the shooting occurred along the 1000 block of Broxton Avenue at about 10:45 p.m.
One woman who was walking nearby said she heard a police officer yell, “There he goes, there he goes,” then saw a young man running across a parking lot on Broxton.
Soon after, there were three shots and someone yelled, “Here come the guns,” the witness said.
Others on the street began screaming and running, and some “hit the ground,” she said.
Police officials said the officers at the scene did not fire any of the shots.
Miss Toshima fell on the sidewalk in front of the parking lot adjacent to Stratton’s Grill, a popular restaurant. She was shot once in the head, police said.
She spent the night on a life-support system at the UCLA Medical Center before she was pronounced dead.
“It’s unbelievable, just unbelievable,” said Toshima’s uncle shortly before her family left the hospital.
Clerks at Aahs, a toy and card store down the block from the shooting scene, said that a fight among suspected gang members had broken out minutes earlier in front of the shop, prompting them to scramble to shut the doors.
“People ran in the store when the fight started,” clerk Doug Saeltzer said. “Then I heard a loud noise and thought a display fell, but I looked out the window and saw people outside running to see what happened. For a few minutes it was bedlam around here.”
Alex Gorin, a hostess at Stratton’s Grill, said the restaurant was full and the music turned up loud so that no one inside heard the shots. But two workers who left the restaurant moments earlier had to quickly duck by their car, she said, and “one of them said she felt like the bullet passed right over her head.”
Westwood Village regularly attracts thousands of visitors on weekend evenings, many of them high school and college students, when much of it is closed to vehicular traffic.
But employees of local businesses complained Sunday that the area also has become popular among gangs and that they don’t feel comfortable walking alone in the streets.
Earlier Saturday night, Gorin said, she noticed groups of youths taunting each other. “It was obvious they were separated by an invisible line of some sort,” she said.
A waitress said busboys going out to the trash bins in back of the restaurants at night were jumped three times in the last year.
Members of the police CRASH unit took more than 40 people to the West Los Angeles police station for questioning, Humphry said, including 10 suspected gang members.