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Motorist and Passenger Wounded Sunday on Pacific Coast Highway

July 27, 1987

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A man in a sports car fired a handgun at a pickup truck in heavy traffic Sunday on the Pacific Coast Highway in the latest incident of highway violence that has left two people dead and one critically wounded.

Eight highway shootings involving angry motorists have been reported since mid-June, and authorities are urging motorists to steer clear of highway confrontations .

The shooting Sunday occurred when a driver of a sports car cut in front of a pickup truck driven by Brad Heppner, 27, and the two exchanged heated words, police said. When traffic ground to a standstill, the man stepped out of his convertible, pulled a handgun from the trunk, fired at the pickup and drove away. Police said they were unable to find the attacker.

Heppner suffered cuts from broken glass; his passenger, Daniel Brooks, 27, suffered a powder burn from the gunshot, according to Sgt. Russ Martin of suburban Santa Monica.

One bullet passed through the helmet of a motorcyclist, Michael Rushlow, 32; both Rushlow and a woman passenger escaped injury, Martin said.

On Saturday afternoon, gunfire from an automobile on a freeway 40 miles south of downtown Los Angeles shattered the rear window of a van carrying four young men. Authorities believe the shooting, in which no one was hurt, was unprovoked.

Less than 24 hours earlier, a teen-ager was shot to death after he pulled his Volkswagen Beetle onto Highway 71 in Pomona in front of a pickup truck.

Russell J. Pirrone, 17, was pronounced dead Friday shortly after 9 p.m. He was shot in the head by one of the truck’s passengers, apparently because the truck had to slow for Pirrone’s car as it entered the highway, police said.

″What can we do with these streets?,″ Pirrone’s grieving grandmother, Jean Pirrelli, asked Saturday. ″We cannot continue this. Highways are becoming a gun place.″

A week before Pirrone’s death, a 28-year-old man was critically wounded while driving in heavy traffic on the Newport-Costa Mesa Freeway near the entrance to the Orange County Fair. Police have charged a 32-year-old man with attempted murder. The victim remained hospitalized Sunday.

On June 20, a 24-year-old passenger was shot twice and killed as he rode with his girlfriend on the Santa Ana Freeway in Santa Fe Springs. The gunman, who has not been caught, apparently was angered by the slow speed of the car.

While there are no statistics on freeway violence, authorities agree it seems to be increasing.

″In the past we had snipers, people throwing rocks at cars, dropping things from freeway passes and running people off the road,″ said the Los Angeles Police Department’s chief psychiatrist, Martin Reiser. But the series of shootings, he said, ″represents an escalation.″

The highways ″used to be unsafe because there are so many cars,″ said Officer Kimberly Skow of the California Highway Patrol’s West Los Angeles station. ″Now, combining that with people’s tempers, I don’t think driving is any more safe than walking down the street late at night.″

As a result, the CHP advises drivers who find themselves confronted by belligerent motorists to resist the temptation to take on the other driver.

″The message we’re trying to get across is that if somebody is flashing his lights and honking his horn, signaling he wants to pass, don’t hold your ground,″ said CHP spokesman Mike Maas.

When it is safe to do so, authorities urge motorists to report those who try to run others off the road, flash weapons or show other signs of belligerence. They also urge people to get license plate numbers and vehicle descriptions whenever possible.

Psychiatrists offer a wide range of theories for the escalating violence, citing the car’s representation as a masculine symbol, the media’s focus on violence and modern man’s inability to control his impulses among possible causes.

Freeways also are becoming increasingly crowded, say traffic analysts.

Said James Ortner, of the Automobile Club of Southern California: ″Everyone’s competing for the same space at the same time.″

The crime-fighting Guardian Angels organization announced Sunday it will begin patrolling freeways in the evenings and would offer yellow ribbons for motorists to place on auto antennas as ″a symbol of caution.″

″We just thought it was really high time,″ said Angels adviser Sandra Hess.

Update hourly