Holiday Gunfire Down in L.A., Up in County : Shooting: Sheriff's officials report an increase in people marking the new year by firing guns into the air.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although the number of reports of people celebrating the New Year by firing guns into the air was significantly down in Los Angeles Wednesday, there was a surge of such gunfire elsewhere in the county.

County sheriff's officials said they responded to 777 calls of people illegally firing guns in areas of the county patrolled by deputies--a dramatic increase over last year's 526 calls. Sixteen people were injured by falling bullets, compared to no injuries on last year's holiday.

Officials said 23 people were arrested by the Sheriff's Department--the same as last year--and were unable to explain the increase in celebratory shooting, which shattered car windshields and damaged roofs.

Los Angeles Police Department officials said they have witnessed a reduction in shooting incidents after implementing an ongoing community awareness program.

"The law-abiding public has gotten the message and they are no longer shooting into the air," said Police Lt. Bruce Hagerty, who helped launch the education campaign two years ago. "Some criminal types and hard-heads are still doing it, and those are the ones we'll target next year."

He said police made 70 arrests between midnight Monday and 4 a.m. on New Year's Day, and authorities confiscated 80 weapons, "including one fully automatic Uzi." Of those arrested, 28 were cited for randomly shooting into the air.

Hagerty added that the LAPD fielded 265 calls of "shots fired into the air," with no deaths or injuries. Last year, the department received 565 calls.

In addition, police in the Southeast Division surrounded a house on East 93rd Street and arrested 10 gang members who allegedly fired semiautomatic and automatic weapons into the air.

In another incident, a suspect was arrested in the Harbor area after he allegedly shot at an LAPD patrol car and narrowly missed hitting the officer in the driver's seat, police said.

Firing a weapon into the air is a felony, and ammunition sales are banned during the seven days leading up to the New Year's and Fourth of July holidays.

In Fountain Valley, a 30-year-old man was seriously injured when an antique cannon fired to celebrate the new year exploded. The man, William R. Batman of Westminster, lost both legs and an arm in the accident and was in critical condition Wednesday, a spokesperson at UC Irvine Medical Center said. The man's fiancee and her 6-year-old son also were injured in the explosion that occurred in the back yard of a house in the 9000 block of Jasmine Avenue.

Police said the cannon apparently was taken outside by the swimming pool, filled with gunpowder, stuffed with toilet paper and fired. When fired a second time, the cannon, about 3 feet long with a three-inch barrel, exploded, sending pieces of shrapnel into the back of the house.

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