The phone calls started coming in to detectives Friday morning, about eight hours after police took the unusual step of stopping motorists in Pacoima and Mission Hills to hand out flyers asking for clues to the recent killing of John Albert Avila.
Los Angeles police said the calls were the first encouraging sign in a case that had stumped them for a week. Avila, a 19-year-old Mission Hills resident, was shot in the chest as he sat in his pickup truck at a Mission Hills intersection the night of May 5.
"The kid's driving home and he's just blown away for an unknown reason," Detective Al Ferrand said. The killing appeared to be the work of a gang, but Avila was not a gang member, Ferrand said.
Detectives had found few leads, so Ferrand printed 1,000 leaflets and sent officers out Thursday night at the same time Avila was shot seven nights earlier. The flyer technique is rare at most police divisions, Ferrand said, but in the Foothill Division, "we do it quite frequently when we have no hard clues."
"We're getting some phone calls now," the detective said. "We don't know how good it is, but it's more than we had."
Ferrand said 20 officers stopped motorists at three intersections where Avila was seen the night he died and gave away the yellow leaflets, marked "Murder Information Wanted," between 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Officers also visited a few restaurants. A local In-N-Out gave away flyers with burgers.
The flyer showed a picture of Avila's cream-colored 1985 Toyota mini-truck and gave a brief chronology of what Ferrand said happened to Avila soon after he left his girlfriend's house about 10:30 p.m. last Thursday.
A late-model blue pickup truck chased Avila as he drove from Maclay Avenue to Laurel Canyon Boulevard and to Brand Boulevard. The chase continued until Avila stopped at Brand and Sepulveda Boulevard for a red light.
After the blue pickup stopped, a man got out of the passenger's side, walked up with a handgun and fired one shot into Avila's chest. Mortally wounded, Avila pressed down on the accelerator and crashed into a utility pole on Bermuda Street. The blue truck fled west on Chatsworth Street.
Ferrand, a 20-year veteran of homicide investigations, said detectives have learned the names of unidentified murder victims or captured killers through flyers. Sometimes "it pays off," he said.
Ferrand said the best-known investigation aided by flyers was the slaying case of Lisa Ann Rosales in December, 1980. The 7-year-old Pacoima first-grader was sexually molested and strangled before her body was dumped in a ditch in Lakeview Terrace. Ferrand said a tip, prompted by one of 5,000 flyers distributed by police, led to the arrest and conviction of Rosales' killer in Mexico, where the man is serving a 25-year prison term.