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Victim in ‘Wrong Place at Wrong Time’ : Crime: A woman on her way home from a store was fatally shot as she drove past Bowling Green Park. Five suspected gang members were arrested.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In a chilling episode of random violence, a woman driving home from the grocery store at night was shot in the head and killed by a group of teen-age gang members who were drinking beer and scrawling graffiti in a city park, police said.

Five suspects who were arrested minutes after the slaying told authorities that they had decided to steal the next car that drove by Westminster’s Bowling Green Park Sunday about 11 p.m.

“And so when she came along, apparently they shot her because she did not stop,” Westminster Police Officer Robin Kapp said. “She was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Janet L. Bicknell, 49, of Westminster was found slumped over the steering wheel of her white Toyota Corolla, which jumped a curb and crashed into a tree. She had been shot once in the head. A passerby found the victim minutes after the attack and told neighbors to call police.

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Bicknell’s roommate, who asked not to be identified, said the victim left the couple’s home on Forrest Lane just before her death to buy some hamburger meat at a nearby supermarket. She was killed on her way home.

Minutes after the slaying, Santa Ana police arrested five suspects when a plainclothes officer spotted someone throwing what later was identified as a pistol from a car, Santa Ana police spokeswoman Maureen Haacker said.

Arrested for attempted armed robbery and murder were Christopher Frank Martinez, 18, and Enrique Moralez Segoviano, 18, both of Santa Ana, and Antonio Gonzalez, 20, of Westminster. Police also arrested a 16-year-old male from Westminster and a 14-year-old male from Santa Ana, who were not identified because they are juveniles, police said.

A 17-year-old female from Westminster was also taken into custody but released after questioning.

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Kapp said the adults were taken to Orange County Jail and the juveniles to Juvenile Hall.

The suspects were identified as members of the Santa Ana 5th Street gang, one of more than a dozen violent street gangs in that city, Haacker said. She characterized the slaying as “a pretty horrendous crime.”

Kapp said the suspects told police in interviews Sunday night that they were at the park drinking beer and scrawling graffiti on a wall near a basketball court. They said they had decided to steal the next car that passed the park, but Kapp declined to say whether they also confessed to the shooting.

Haacker said Santa Ana officers did not realize that they were stopping murder suspects but pulled the car over at Hazard Avenue and Amberwood Drive when they noticed a passenger throwing an object out of a window.

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As the Santa Ana officers were questioning the occupants of the 1978 Buick Regal, a Westminster patrol car drove past and the officer somehow recognized the vehicle, Kapp said. The Santa Ana officer turned the suspects over to Westminster police.

Police found a .44-caliber magnum pistol--believed to be the murder weapon--lying in the gutter less than a block from where the car was stopped. They also found several cans of spray paint in the car, Kapp said.

Gunpowder tests were administered to the hands of at least one of the suspects, Kapp said.

Neighbors and Bicknell’s roommate expressed shock that a murder occurred in the otherwise peaceful neighborhood of single-family homes, many of which are surrounded by trim yards and colorful flower beds.

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They said Bicknell was a cordial but distant woman. Although she has lived in the neighborhood for more than 15 years, several neighbors said they knew little about her past or her family. Some neighbors said they sometimes agreed to look after her house when she was away.

“We knew she was good people,” said Kermit Roberts, who lives two houses away from Bicknell’s brown and tan, single-story home. "(But) we don’t know much about her.”

Many interviewed said that they could have just as easily been the victim of the random crime.

“It’s more horrible to think that 20 minutes before that, my husband was driving home and went by the (same) park,” said Marsha Young, who first called police after her friend discovered the body. “That could happen to anybody. It was a real eye-opener.”

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Residents have been increasingly worried that gang members have been frequenting the park near their 20-year-old neighborhood. Weekly, city officials have had to paint over graffiti that has appeared on the park walls, Kapp said.

Some residents said they have noticed an increase in police patrols around the neighborhood park.

Residents said that the Bowling Green Homeowners’ Assn. was once very active in patrolling the area but that over the past several years the patrolling has stopped. Young and others said they hoped the shock of the brutal slaying would revive the organization’s patrols.

“The less we do, the more (gangs) are likely to come around,” Young said.

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