New Charge Is Filed in Hospital Shootings

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A new attempted-murder charge was filed against Long Beach painter Michael E. Rahming on Friday, alleging that he tried to kill a fourth man during a bloody shooting spree at the Fairview Developmental Center late last month.

The 38-year-old Rahming, who had a history of run-ins with his supervisors at the state hospital over his claims of racism, allegedly pulled the trigger of his gun while aiming at a fellow employee--but the weapon did not fire, according to investigators and Fairview workers. The employee wasn't hurt.

"The guy may have run out of bullets," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Pat Donahue.

The surprise move by prosecutors in bringing the new charge came in an amended complaint filed just before Rahming's scheduled arraignment in Municipal Court in Newport Beach.

Rahming has already been charged with killing one supervisor and wounding two others--including Fairview's top administrator--during a July 30 attack at the state hospital for the mentally retarded on Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa.

The existence of a fourth alleged victim had not been disclosed previously, and it caught Rahming's attorney off guard, forcing him to seek a two-week delay in the arraignment.

"I'm sure that gun was waving around, but I don't know what this is about," said Deputy Public Defender David C. Biggs.

Sgt. Ron Smith, an investigator at the Costa Mesa Police Department, said police were still reviewing the accounts of witnesses and may well seek the filing of more attempted-murder charges against Rahming if it is found that he aimed his weapon at others with the intent to harm them.

In court filings, authorities named Michael Softa as Rahming's latest victim.

Softa, an eight-year employee at the hospital facilities shop, said he could not comment on the case.

"I told the police everything I know," he said Friday.

But several fellow employees said that Softa was known as "a joker" among co-workers, and that he had once gotten in an argument over this with Rahming.

Authorities believe that on the morning of the shootings, Rahming first went into the break room at the paint shop, and while several horrified co-workers looked on, shot two of his supervisors, killing Al Motis and wounding Jim Pichon with a gunshot to the head.

Then, according to new disclosures Friday, he went outside the shop and called for Softa, according to Herman Vison, 58, of Cypress, a metal worker for 13 years at the hospital.

According to an account circulating among shop workers, "as soon as Softa came out, (the gunman) pulled the trigger twice but nothing came out," Vison said.

The gunman may have been out of bullets, or there may have been a mechanical problem with the .32-caliber revolver believed to have been used in the attack, authorities said.

In any event, he is believed to have reloaded the gun after shooting Motis and Pichon and before turning the gun on the hospital director, Hugh Kohler, Smith said.

Kohler suffered a superficial head wound from the gunshot and returned to work last week.

Officials say that Rahming had gotten into repeated scrapes with his supervisors over his claims that he was discriminated against at work because he was black. Under orders from the hospital, he had also undergone psychiatric exams, which showed a potential for violence.

Biggs, the public defender, said the new attempted-murder charge "increases the seriousness of the complaint and also possibly the punishment." Considered alone, an attempted-murder conviction carries a maximum of 11 years in state prison.

Without having seen details on the fourth alleged victim--presumably contained in about 1,000 pages of documents compiled on the case--Biggs said he finds it odd that the district attorney's office would bring an attempted-murder charge over a victim who was not hurt. A less severe allegation would have been more typical, he said.

But prosecutor Donahue said: "The fact that there are no injuries is not fatal to the count. We just have to show his intent."

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