Crime - Sacto 911

Road rage? Gangs? Car-to-car shootings are on the rise on Northern CA freeways, CHP says

See the scene of the shooting turned crash on Highway 99

Shots were fired, causing multiple car crashes on Highway 99 on the morning of October 6, 2018.
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Shots were fired, causing multiple car crashes on Highway 99 on the morning of October 6, 2018.

A little after 1 a.m. on a Sunday last September, passengers in two cars driving side-by-side on Interstate 5 in Elk Grove engaged in a shouting match.

A California Highway Patrol spokesperson said it all started as a “road rage incident.” Occupants inside an Infiniti heading southbound near Laguna Boulevard began arguing with four men inside a white sedan, make and model unknown.

Just two freeway exits later, near Hood Franklin Road, a passenger in the white car stuck a gun out the window, shot into the front passenger seat of the Infiniti and hit a 42-year-old Stockton woman in the neck.

That woman survived, treated after being rushed to UC Davis Medical Center, CHP South Sacramento spokesman Officer Jim Young said at the time.

No arrests have been made.

Wild and rare as they may sound, car-to-car shootings have been happening at an increasing rate on freeways across the greater Sacramento area over the past several months.

Sometimes authorities say they’re related to road rage, sometimes they’re targeted incidents between parties who know each other, and, in many cases, the motive remains unclear, per the investigating agencies.

After three men were arrested earlier this week in connection with a March shooting on Interstate 80 that seriously injured a driver in Roseville, CHP acknowledged that these types of shootings have recently become more frequent across Northern California.

Not even halfway through the year, CHP’s Valley Division, which encompasses 20 CHP area offices in the Sacramento Valley, has responded to reports of 11 shootings and arrested seven suspects in connection with those shootings, CHP Sgt. Nelda Banuelos said.

That’s on pace for more than triple the number of shootings reported in 2018, when there were seven for the entire year across the 20 covered areas. Only one arrest has been made by CHP in the 2018 incidents, according to Banuelos, but investigations remain ongoing for the remainder.

CHP Valley Division Chief Brent Newman, in a statement accompanying this week’s announcement of the arrests in the March I-80 shooting, said freeway shootings are often targeted.

“We want to assure the public that these acts of violence are not random but often targeted attacks between parties that know each other,” Newman said.

Authorities believe that may be the case in the Roseville shooting – which resulted in the arrests of Tevarus Hill, 27; Myles Sherman, 24; and Enacio Bolton, 26. The three men each face charges of attempted murder, according to Newman and the CHP.

It similarly might have been the case Dec. 28, when a shooting from one moving car into another on eastbound Highway 50 in Rancho Cordova left a passenger with non-life-threatening gunshot injuries and led the victim vehicle’s driver to lose control and crash into the median. Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Shaun Hampton told The Bee at the time that the victims appeared to be targeted – in a broad-daylight, 11 a.m. shooting near Mather Field Road.

But other incidents, like the September dust-up in Elk Grove that escalated from a verbal scuffle to a bullet in the neck, appeared to occur between parties that didn’t know each other, following an “altercation” or some other form of potential road rage, according to initial investigations.

The lone arrest for a 2018 shooting is also believed to be road rage-related, stemming from a dispute at a Sacramento County gas station, where “words were exchanged” before a shooting happened on the freeway, Banuelos said. More details on that incident were not immediately available.

Then, last month, a 36-year-old Sacramento man heading home from Chico was shot and killed on Highway 70 by one or more occupants of a gold Nissan Altima on May 22, shortly after the parties had a “verbal altercation” in Marysville, CHP and Yuba County sheriff’s officials said. Another passenger was injured but survived.

The Yuba County Sheriff’s Office on May 31 announced the arrests of two suspects on suspicion of murder and the arrest of a third, the suspected driver, who faces charges of being an accomplice to the crime. The suspects were seen on “over two dozen business security videos” in Yuba, Sutter and Butte counties following the shooting, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

The victims were not known to the suspects, sheriff’s officials said.

But that doesn’t necessarily make a shooting entirely random. Court records indicate that the two primary suspects have histories of violent crimes. Vivion Wallace, 21, of Yuba City, who had convictions in Yuba County for robbery and for being a street gang participant, as well as a Sutter County conviction for possession of an assault weapon. The other suspect, Avery Sanchez, 20, of Sacramento, was charged in September 2016 with felony assault with a deadly weapon in Yuba County.

CHP officials didn’t speculate about the cause in the recent uptick across Northern California. But in Valley Division’s news release this week, officials say enforcement measures are being ramped up.

These include proactive measures, the news release states: “redeploying staff, adding to investigative teams, involvement in zero-tolerance gang enforcement operations, and increasing communication at all levels among the involved law enforcement agencies and community leaders.”

A proactive approach is key because, as this week’s arrests show, identifying and arresting suspects in a car-to-car shooting can take weeks, months or longer. Five months into 2019, a least a half-dozen suspects from 2018 freeway shootings may still be at large.

Regardless of cause, freeway shootings grind traffic to a halt for hours, usually closing all lanes of traffic in at least one direction as authorities respond to and investigate the crime scene.

Early morning shots fired on southbound Highway 99 on a Saturday last October led to a chain reaction crash involving at least five vehicles, one of which rolled over. Miraculously, no one was injured – but a busy stretch just south of the Highway 50 interchange was shut down for six hours.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.

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