An executive of the Wienerschnitzel fast-food chain was shot and wounded Tuesday morning by a gunman who strolled up her driveway and fired point-blank into her Mercedes-Benz as she prepared to leave for work.
Neighbors heard a popping sound about 8:20 a.m. and then heard Beverly J. Blake, 48, screaming for help. The assailant fled and Blake staggered to a neighbor’s lawn, where other neighbors came to her side.
“I ran out and got a towel and wrapped it around her,” said Mike Flamson, who lives across the street. “She just kept saying she wasn’t going to die because she had a little daughter at home. She was scared she was going to die and she didn’t want to leave her daughter.”
Blake was airlifted to a hospital and was in stable condition late Tuesday, police said.
Neighbors said a man who fits the assailant’s description had been lurking in the Harborview Homes area for weeks, strolling through the neighborhood of half-million-dollar homes and sitting in his parked car near the Blake house.
The shooting sent tremors of fear through the area, where the Neighborhood Watch coordinator said raccoons and coyotes usually cause more concern than crime.
Blake is a vice president of marketing for the fast-food company and lives with her 3-year-old daughter, a roommate and a live-in housekeeper, neighbors said.
As Blake lay bleeding with wounds to her arm and side, she told neighbors she was baffled by the shooting.
“She said she had never seen him before and that there was no reason anyone would want to do this to her,” said Adrianne Ross, 44, a neighbor and former trauma nurse who took Blake’s pulse and kept her talking until paramedics arrived.
Investigators described the assailant as black and heavyset, in his late 30s or early 40s, about 6 feet and 250 pounds, with salt-and-pepper hair. He was driving a dark-colored, 1990s Pontiac, possibly a maroon two-door Grand Am, said Newport Beach Police Sgt. Richard Long.
“He approached her while she was sitting in her car and shot her,” Long said. “There are no indications of a robbery. We don’t have any indication at all that this is related to any kind of a carjacking. The only thing we’re investigating is the attempted murder of the victim.”
Long confirmed reports that neighbors had previously seen the assailant in the area and said that detectives were reviewing police logs for calls from the neighborhood. At least 10 detectives and supervisors have been assigned to the case, he said.
Twice last week in the early morning, a man fitting the assailant’s description parked at the end of the street, and on Friday he used a portable restroom set up in a resident’s front yard for construction workers, said a woman who spoke on condition that her name be withheld.
“He was not physically fit. He had a big pouch and a big round face,” she said.
Ross said the assailant may have visited the neighborhood as long as two months ago, when she called police to report a large man sitting in a dark-red, late-model car in front of her house.
Tuesday morning, the assailant did not hide himself from neighbors’ view. One resident said she saw him “walking nonchalantly” past Blake’s home in dark-colored clothing about 8 a.m. After she went inside to watch cartoons with her granddaughter, she heard the shots.
The man had been standing near Blake’s driveway moments before the shooting, according to another neighbor, who said she had spotted the man three times over the last two weeks.
“My husband was backing out of the driveway this morning and he almost hit him,” she said. “I’ve seen him in the neighborhood. He’s been driving by and walking up and down the street. He did look back at us once.”
Neighbors described Blake as a devoted mother who works long hours and spends all her free time with her daughter.
“She is a very nice lady,” said Bobbie, 46, a neighbor who declined to give her last name. “She goes to work every day. She takes care of her little girl. She doesn’t have many friends. She told me that the reason she doesn’t come over to visit with me is because she needs to spend all her free time with her daughter.”
Co-workers at the Wienerschnitzel corporate office in Newport Beach spent the day in shock.
“We’re all devastated,” said JoAnna Dalton, an assistant to the company’s president who has known Blake for more than 10 years. “Everyone’s just been kind of shaken up. It’s been hard to work around here. We just keep wondering why Beverly?”
The 43-person staff at Galardi Group, an agency that runs the hot dog chain and several other franchise businesses, found out about the shooting early Tuesday and kept office doors locked throughout the day as a precaution.
Employees with the group said the assailant’s description does not match that of anyone they know.
“We don’t have anyone here or a franchisee of that description,” said Cindy Scott, who works in the operations department. “Maybe he’s just some sicko.”
Blake started working for Wienerschnitzel in Los Angeles more than 10 years ago, Dalton said. Two years ago she transferred to the Newport Beach office and moved into her present home, which is 10 minutes from work.
Co-workers said that Blake is from Chicago and is single, and that her daughter, Taylor, is adopted.
“She doesn’t have any family here,” Dalton said. “Her daughter is everything to her. Beverly is a patient and wonderful mother.”
At Blake’s home Tuesday, a trail of blood traced Blake’s steps from her car through the rose bushes near her walkway and down the sidewalk to her neighbor’s yard. A cream-colored pair of blood-spattered pumps and a shoulder pad from a woman’s blouse lay on the lawn next to a pair of paramedics’ surgical gloves, and glass from the shattered driver’s window of Blake’s Mercedes covered her driveway on Port Sheffield Place.
The circumstances of the shooting are reminiscent of another on June 10 in Fountain Valley, in which flight attendant Jane Carver was slain by an apparent stranger as she returned from a morning jog around Mile Square Regional Park.
In the Fountain Valley case, neighbors had noticed a man who matched the slayer’s description sitting in his car in the quiet residential tract for weeks before the killing.
But police in Newport Beach and Fountain Valley stressed Tuesday that the descriptions of the assailants are markedly different.
“We don’t see any relationship at all between the cases,” Newport Beach Sgt. Long said.
Fountain Valley Lt. Bob Mosley said his department conferred Tuesday with Newport Beach detectives and also concluded that the descriptions of the assailants are very different.
Tuesday’s shooting shattered the peace in a Newport Beach neighborhood that rarely faces violent crime, prompting some neighbors to call for guard booths in the area.
Residents have enjoyed a sense of insulated security in the network of tiny cul-de-sacs that wind around a school and Buffalo Hills Park, where children swim and play.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Tuesday morning, a man who had been seen in the neighborhood during previous weeks shot restaurant executive Beverly J. Blake as she sat in her white Mercedes-Benz in her driveway. Blake survived; the attacker remains at large.
1. Minutes before shooting, one of Blake’s neighbors nearly hits assailant while backing out of driveway.
2. At 8:20 a.m., Blake gets into her car; assailant walks up driveway, fires single shot through driver’s window.
3. Blake exits car, stumbles across her yard and collapses in neighbor’s front yard.
Sources: Eyewitness reports, Newport Beach Police Department