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Police Seek 2 Men, Truck in Freeway Shooting : Crime: The victim clings to life with a bullet wound to the head. His sister says there was a verbal altercation between occupants of the two vehicles.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Police on Sunday were searching for two young men and a red Toyota pickup truck in connection with a freeway shooting Saturday that left a Los Angeles man clinging to life in a local hospital.

Gilberto Valenzuela, 27, was listed in critical condition at UCI Medical Center in Orange, where he was transported after the 6 p.m. attack on the eastbound Riverside Freeway at the transition to the southbound Santa Ana Freeway in Anaheim. Valenzuela was shot once in the head.

Anaheim police Sunday searched for two white males last seen in the 1981 or 1982 pickup truck. Police had no further description. While Lt. John Cross said investigators had not yet determined a motive, Valenzuela’s family blamed the shooting on a verbal altercation between Valenzuela and occupants of the truck.

Valenzuela and a friend were driving to Anaheim to visit another friend’s house when Valenzuela, who was a passenger, leaned out his window and began yelling at two men in a truck, according to Valenzuela’s sister, Marya Valenzuela, 22. She said he began yelling for no apparent reason.

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“He was yelling ‘Viva Mexico!’ and things like that to two white boys in the truck,” said the sister, who got that version of events from Valenzuela’s friend, a man she knew only as Abel. “Abel told him not to scream, to calm down. But he kept it up.”

Lt. John Haradon said the friend of Valenzuela, whom he declined to name, initially told investigators that he did not know what prompted the attack. Haradon said Sunday that he did not know what the man may have subsequently told police.

“The case is far from being closed at this point,” Haradon said. “Much of his story needs to be substantiated.”

After the yelling, the men in the pickup truck disappeared from view momentarily but reappeared on the left side of the Camaro in which Valenzuela and his friend were driving, his sister said she was told.

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The passenger in the truck then opened fire on the Camaro, police said. Haradon said that between five and 10 shots were fired from a large-caliber gun, with five of the bullets striking the side of the car.

“They didn’t even hear the shooting at first,” Marya Valenzuela said. “Then the window on the driver’s side got broken out, and Abel told my brother to get down. When Abel came up (from ducking), he saw Gilberto lying on the car seat, with all kinds of blood everywhere.”

The friend pulled the car to the shoulder and used a call box to summon help. Valenzuela, shot in the left temple, was rushed by Buena Park paramedics to the UCI Medical Center. Buena Park Fire Battalion Chief William L. Jones said the bullet entered Valenzuela’s head but did not exit. Police Lt. Cross said the victim is not expected to recover.

Since the shooting, Marya Valenzuela and other family members have maintained a vigil in the waiting room of UCI’s surgical intensive care unit, where Valenzuela was admitted.

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Valenzuela, a warehouse worker, was born in the Mexican state of Sonora but moved with his family to the Long Beach area at an early age, his sister said. One of eight brothers and sisters, he most recently had been living with family members in Watts. A former street gang member, he was described by relatives as friendly but quick-tempered.

“When somebody is playing with him, yeah, he’s got a bad temper,” said a brother-in-law, Luis Hernandez.

“We always warned him that he’s got to calm down,” Marya Valenzuela said. “We said it could do a lot of damage to him.”

Valenzuela had finished helping relatives move into a new house about 4 p.m. Saturday when his friend picked him up to go to Anaheim for the remainder of the afternoon, Marya Valenzuela said. She said that her brother told him that he would try to return home in time to join family members in attending 7 p.m. Mass on Saturday. Anaheim police notified her of the shooting at 8 p.m.

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The shooting followed by less than a week the fatal shooting of a restaurateur on the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles. Last month, a 16-year-old Bell Gardens youth was fatally shot while riding with friends on the Long Beach Freeway. And in January, one man was shot to death and another wounded when gunmen in two vehicles pulled to the shoulder of the Santa Ana Freeway in Anaheim, jumped out and exchanged fire.

In the summer of 1987, a series of freeway shootings resulted in criminal charges against 16 people.


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