Rape Suspect in Custody, Police Say

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles police announced Thursday that they have in custody a suspect in a recent string of San Fernando Valley rapes--even as officers scoured an apartment complex here for another man who, in a new incident, allegedly raped a woman at gunpoint before tossing her naked from her car.

In the latest attack, the victim was allegedly kidnapped by a man who crept up on her unlocked car about 3:15 a.m. Thursday as she was waiting at a red light at Hayvenhurst Avenue and Roscoe Boulevard in North Hills. He then drove her to the 17000 block of Saticoy Street in Van Nuys, where he raped and released her, police said.

"Before she knew what happened or saw him coming, he was already opening the door and was inside," said Det. Gary Barthelmess of the Los Angeles Police Department's Devonshire Division.

Once freed, Barthelmess continued, "She went to a nearby home and knocked on the door. The people gave her some clothes and then called police."

Just 15 minutes later, patrol officers spotted a car driving west on Roscoe Boulevard near Lindley Avenue. At first, officers were simply trying to alert the driver that the car's headlights were not on. Once they realized that the car matched a description of the alleged rape victim's car, the officers made a U-turn and began to follow the vehicle, police said.

With a police car on his trail, the man quickly abandoned the car and began to run through a nearby apartment complex. Officers gave chase, but the man escaped, losing his shoes in the process. "He must have tripped over and stumbled out of his shoes," Barthelmess said.

Officers closed off the area and knocked on doors. But the shoeless man was gone.

Although the incident resembles a string of at least four similar rapes reported in the Valley in the last month, police said they are dealing with two rapists.

Det. Mike Buttitta said a news conference earlier this week prompted a tip that led to the recovery of a 1996 Dodge Neon believed to have been used in at least four rapes in the Valley in the last month.

Once police found the Dodge, which was reported stolen, they were able to link it to a man already in custody on separate charges, said Buttitta, of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division.

Both Thursday's incident and the earlier attacks involved Latino suspects and victims. All occurred in cars in the early morning, with the attacker either claiming he had a gun or actually displaying one. Still, Buttitta said of the man in custody, "We can safely say he is not the one in Thursday's rape."

Buttitta cautioned motorists in general to "always know your surroundings, travel in well-lit areas and always lock your doors."

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Carjack Assault

A man raped a woman and stole her car early Thursday in Van Nuys. He eluded police in Northridgeafter a chase and neighborhood search. Here is a look at the chain of events:

1: 3:15 a.m.-Suspect abducts woman, and drives off with her in the car.

2: He rapes her in her car, pushes her out of car and drives off.

3:40 a.m.-Victim contacts police.

3: 4 a.m.-Police spot victim's car and begin a chase. Suspect abandons vehicle and escapes on foot.

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