Freeway Shootings Probed in California Police are looking for clues in a string of car-to-car shootings since mid-March on Southern California freeways. Four people have been killed so far, and no solid leads have been found.
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Freeway Shootings Probed in California

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Freeway Shootings Probed in California

Freeway Shootings Probed in California

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Los Angeles, there's been another flurry of freeway shootings. Police there have confirmed two new incidents over the weekend, and there are two other possible shootings under investigation. No one has died in these most recent incidents, but since mid-March, a string of car-to-car shootings on Southern California freeways has claimed four lives. As NPR's Luke Burbank reports, police have no solid leads, and commuters are nervous.

Unidentified Woman #1: (On police radio) (Unintelligible)...

Officer JOHN SAMPSON: We're driving northbound on the 110 Freeway.

LUKE BURBANK reporting:

Officer John Sampson's highway patrol car glides long the 110 Freeway. At the moment, things seem calm, but LA's roadways have been anything but recently. Four people are dead, another three seriously injured after a spate of unsolved shootings.

Off. SAMPSON: It's very troubling that there've been--frequency, this close together. That hasn't happened for a long time.

BURBANK: Not since the late 1980s, when two dozen shootings left about five dead. Sampson isn't hopeful about the chances of catching someone in these recent killings. For one thing, witnesses are few, and an LA freeway is not exactly an ideal place for an investigation.

Off. SAMPSON: A perfect crime scene would be a crime scene that nobody had entered or exited from. All the physical evidence is untouched. Unfortunately, the highway transportation system isn't the most convenient and cooperative for that type of investigation.

BURBANK: The victims have varied in race and age: a 26-year-old engineer shot in the afternoon; a college student hit while sitting in rush-hour traffic; a 32-year-old killed in the middle of the night; and most recently 47-year-old James Wiggins.

Reverend WILLIAM THURMAN(ph) (Windsor Park Baptist Church): He was a fun-loving person, always smiling, willing to reach out to help other people.

BURBANK: Reverend William Thurman was Wiggins' pastor at Windsor Park Baptist Church in South Central LA.

Rev. THURMAN: Immediately, you say, `Why? Why him?'

BURBANK: It's a question Angelenos have been asking about all of the victims. Were the shootings gang-related or road rage gone to the extreme? Reverend Thurman says neither sounds like the James Wiggins he knew.

Rev. THURMAN: Because I had just talked to him that Sunday, reminding him that he had missed the class the week before. And he had promised, `I'm going to be there, I'll be there.' I said, `OK, fine, I'll look for you.'

BURBANK: Wiggins was on his way to that Bible class when he was killed. As tragic as the shootings have been, police are trying to assure drivers that the freeways are still safe.

(Soundbite of newscast)

Unidentified Announcer: Live from NBC 4...

BURBANK: But local TV stations are sending a different message.

(Soundbite of newscast)

Unidentified Woman #2: Police investigate another freeway shooting, the fifth incident in as many weeks.

BURBANK: Since the first incident in March, the shootings have been a top story. And drivers are watching.

Mr. OTIS WYATT(ph) (Motorist): I drive the Harbor Freeway right where both shootings happened.

BURBANK: Otis Wyatt of Gardena fills up at a Mobil station just off the 110, the scene of two of the fatalities. He says these days he's on constant alert.

Mr. WYATT: Every time somebody pulls beside you, I'm looking. If I pull besides, I'm looking. You know, just--it's getting crazy.

BURBANK: With the death toll growing and no suspects in police custody, rumors are starting to fly. Teresa Jones drives the 110 from Englewood.

Ms. TERESA JONES (Motorist): I got an e-mail saying that some Hispanics were targeting 400 black males by the end of the year. And that really, really made me even more concerned about my son.

BURBANK: Police say they have no information about such a plot. Meanwhile, having already lost one parishioner, Reverend Thurman in South Central says he's prepared a special message for his congregation about what to do if someone cuts you off.

Rev. THURMAN: Don't try to pull up beside them and give them a finger or some such crazy thing like that. Life is more than that, you know, barking back at someone because they bark at you.

BURBANK: Police are now asking the public for tips, saying their best weapon against the shootings might actually be commuters and their cell phones, two things LA has plenty of. Luke Burbank, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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