Aware that crime was burgeoning in the Hawthorne neighborhood where she worked, Lynn Ann Wehner always took care to park as close to her office as she could.
Her black Nissan sports car, with its vanity plate "TZZZ," became a regular sight at the back door of her Department of Motor Vehicles office where she was operations manager.
But her precautions were not enough Thursday afternoon. Homicide detectives believe Wehner, 34, may have just returned from lunch and was parking her car at the agency's back door when someone shot her six times, at least twice in the head, and then fled in her car.
Sheriff's Department detectives said Friday they are looking for a suspect, described by witnesses who saw him abandoning Wehner's car in Inglewood as a black man between 20 and 25 years old, possibly more than six feet tall, with a thin build and hair in a flat-top style. He was seen earlier in the evening having trouble shifting the car's gears, police said.
Reeling from the death of "one of our family," DMV Director Frank S. Zolin announced Friday that the agency will conduct a statewide review of security at all 178 branch offices.
But angry and frightened workers--whose 1989 petition for an on-site security guard was turned down--said the review is too little, too late.
"We felt that it would have to take a big tragedy before they would even listen to us," said Evelyn Perez, a field representative in the office. "We never thought it would be something like this."
"In 1989, we filed a letter with the DMV requesting an increase in security at the (Hawthorne) building because of numerous small incidents that had occurred--car trunk break-ins, thefts, altercations--that indicated a growing problem," said Drew Mendelson, a spokesman for the California State Employees Assn.
Union officials, who said the petition was prompted by car break-ins and assaults on customers in the parking lot, said they plan to file a formal request for armed security at all DMV offices.
"We are extremely unhappy that it has come to a murder . . . before they're willing to do a real examination of security problems," Mendelson said.
DMV field operations chief Rebecca Jorjorian, who responded to the 1989 petition, said the department has a limited budget for security. Since the petition was filed, she said, the Hawthorne Police Department and the State Police have increased patrols through the building and parking lot. In addition, brighter lighting was installed in the lot, she said.
Over the past two years, however, crime has continued to increase in and around the Hawthorne office.
According to a preliminary check of State Police and Hawthorne police records, officials said at least four armed robberies took place in the office's parking lot during 1990. A fifth robbery, in which a customer is reported to have lost $15,000, took place in early January.
"That area does have some activity, but unfortunately there are a lot of areas with even more activity than that," said Curt Sanders, assistant to the chief of State Police.
"She was very afraid," said Wehner's her father, William Wehner, in an interview Friday. A mild-mannered woman, Wehner "would never aggravate anybody. She was the type who walked away from an argument."
Her co-workers praised Wehner as the consummate professional, whose career had moved her rapidly through the ranks since she joined the DMV 14 years ago.
"She was very compassionate, very kind and had the respect and affection of all her employees," said DMV regional manager Toni Gilbert. "Now we're here just trying to clean up the blood from the sidewalk and understand this."
Staff writer Bettina Boxall contributed to this story.