It was a shocking rampage that showed the difficulties of policing a major city, even in the midst of a historic drop in crime.
A man with a long criminal record and a history of mental illness stabbed four homeless men, two of them fatally, in a series of apparently random attacks on busy Hollywood streets, police said Friday.
The attacks occurred Thursday afternoon near the spot where, a few hours earlier, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William J. Bratton had held a news conference to tout a major reduction in crime and announce the hiring of 40 new officers for Hollywood.
Police said they chased down and arrested Domingo Rodas, 53, after he ran near the Music Box theater on Hollywood Boulevard, where officers were gathering evidence from one of the stabbings. The suspect was previously identified as Damian Durado, 54.
Officers said they recognized Rodas from a surveillance tape recorded earlier by security cameras outside the theater. On Friday, the marquee read "Chief Bratton You Are Our Star," a thank you to Bratton for bringing down the crime rate. Bratton announced Wednesday that he would resign his post later this year.
Police and city leaders said the incident, while horrific, underscored how effective the LAPD has become, pointing out that Rodas was caught within four hours of the first stabbing.
"To be able to nab the suspect within a few hours is reassuring," said City Council President Eric Garcetti, who represents the area, adding, however, that it "doesn't bring back these people."
Until Thursday, there had been only six homicides in the LAPD's Hollywood Division this year.
The first attack was reported to police at 1:22 p.m., when a wounded man staggered into the parking lot of the OSH store at Western Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Employees tried to help the 51-year-old man until he was taken to a hospital, where he died.
The second incident occurred shortly before 2. Ashli Hughes, a 29-year-old employee of the Music Box, was putting up posters advertising upcoming shows in a display case on Hollywood Boulevard. She noticed a homeless man apparently sleeping on the sidewalk near the theater entrance, she recalled Friday. Another man, who also appeared to be homeless, paced on the sidewalk behind her.
Their behavior did not seem out of the ordinary for that stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, she said, adding that the pacing man wore a black and white plaid shirt and did not seem agitated.
Needing more publicity materials, Hughes briefly stepped back inside the theater. When she came out, she saw that the man who had been sleeping was bleeding profusely. He had been stabbed while she was inside. He later died at a hospital.
After police arrived, theater employees and officers watched a surveillance tape that showed the stabbing.
Hughes said the tape showed the suspect walk up to the victim "and pop, pop" stab him multiple times before running away.
After studying the tape, police put out a detailed description of Rodas. He had no known history with any of his victims.
Officers began canvassing the area. At 4:41 p.m., reports of yet another stabbing came over the radio, this one at Yucca Street and Argyle Avenue. That man was in stable condition Friday at a local hospital.
LAPD Lt. Beverly Lewis was with detectives processing evidence in front of the Music Box when she saw a police helicopter swoop low near the Yucca Street incident.
Moments later, she saw a man with a black and white plaid shirt running nearby.
"We knew it was him," she said. She and about five other officers gave chase and caught Rodas less than a block away.
Rodas did not appear to be under the influence of any drugs when he was arrested, police said, and he offered no motive for the attacks.
Late Thursday night, police learned of a fourth victim. Also apparently homeless, the man had been stabbed near Wilcox and Franklin avenues. He had called paramedics at 4:37 p.m., but they couldn't immediately find him. He was in critical condition Friday at a local hospital.
Police said the violence could have been worse if they hadn't captured their suspect so quickly.
"He was not even able to leave the Hollywood area," said Capt. Beatrice Girmala. "My fear would have been [that he would have] hidden himself, left the area . . . and we would go wondering if we were going to have a string of victims."
For many of the area's homeless, however, the rampage itself was chilling.
Terrance Robinson, 40, who often sleeps near the site of the first attack, said he had slept somewhere else Thursday.
Living on the streets, he said, means that getting attacked "is always something that is in the back of your mind."