A deadly and highly unusual melee among 30 young women in South Los Angeles was triggered by a dispute over a man who dated two of the female combatants, Los Angeles police said Tuesday.
Many of the women, while not gang members, had ties to men who belonged to gangs, police said. The two groups, authorities said, arranged to meet near Slauson and Western avenues to discuss the romantic triangle.
“The women associated with the rival groups went to the location to discuss it, but once there it quickly turned ugly,” said Police Cmdr. Pat Gannon, who is in charge of the South Bureau homicide unit.
At the height of the confrontation, a woman from one group got into her convertible, screamed and rammed the vehicle into the crowd, police said. Shontae Treniece Blanche, 22, an expectant mother and part-time student at Cal State Northridge, was struck and killed. A second woman was critically injured.
On Tuesday, authorities announced that they had taken the driver into custody and booked her on suspicion of murder. According to police, the driver, Unique Kiana Bishop, 21, fled the scene but showed up at the 77th Street Division station with her mother. Police officials said Bishop told them that she struck the crowd by accident.
Bishop and the dead woman are from South Los Angeles but appear not to have known each other, police said. Bishop, who was on probation for a burglary conviction at the time of the incident, has been ordered held on $1-million bond.
According to police, the discussion about the man turned violent in a flash.
Gannon said “the discussion turned to yelling and soon the fists began to fly.” Witnesses gave varying estimates of the number of women involved in the brawl, which took place in a gas station parking lot, with estimates ranging from 12 to 30 women fighting.
Blanche, Gannon said, went to the gas station with a friend and got involved in the argument. Then, Gannon said, Bishop got into her car and drove into the other group of women, killing Blanche and pinning another woman against another vehicle, injuring her critically. Although authorities initially feared that the injured woman would lose her leg, they said Tuesday that surgeons managed to save the limb.
Police, clarifying and expanding on initial accounts of the incident, said Blanche was trapped under Bishop’s convertible after being struck. Gannon said the suspect, apparently trying to free Blanche’s body from the car, “drove backward over her body, running over her . . . before speeding away.”
According to police, Bishop said she was only trying to escape the chaotic scene and hit the victims by accident. But Gannon said authorities believe that it was a deliberate act.
“Some of the eyewitnesses said the suspect screamed as she drove through the gas station -- something to the effect, ‘I’ll get you,’ ” Gannon said.
Bishop has been convicted twice of burglary and once of petty theft in the last two years, police said. Her latest conviction came after a July 26 arrest for burglary in South Los Angeles. She spent 14 days in jail and was placed on probation after being convicted in the Norwalk branch of Los Angeles Superior Court.
Meanwhile, close to where the brawl started, friends and family of the dead woman gathered at a makeshift memorial Tuesday.
The mourners said it was unlike the 22-year-old to be involved in a violent dispute.
“If she would’ve had any idea what she was getting into, she wouldn’t have come,” said Brenda Rowry, Blanche’s aunt.
At her childhood home in a neighborhood about three miles northwest of the fatal confrontation, Blanche’s grandmother and cousin remembered her as a popular girl and bank worker who was determined to avoid trouble.
“She would tell me, ‘I’m not going to be like my mom,’ ” said Helen Hayes, 60, who raised her granddaughter. According to Hayes, both of Blanche’s parents had been in and out of prison since Blanche was a young child.
Blanche, who was five months’ pregnant and married to a man in prison, was looking forward to a future as a mother and to graduating from Cal State Northridge.
She hoped to become a parole officer and was 13 classes away from that goal, said a cousin, Argentine Hayes, 21.
“She didn’t carry around guns,” the cousin said. “She didn’t carry around knives or razors. She was a peaceful person.”
Neighborhood activists joined mourners in defending the reputations of Blanche and their community.
“This says nothing about the neighborhood,” said Noreen McClendon, executive director of Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles.
McClendon, who knew Blanche, added: “I don’t want anybody to think this was just a gangbanging girl that didn’t have anybody who loved her.”
Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein contributed to this report.