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Phoenix highway shootings come after similar attacks in other cities

September 11th, 2015 8:00 am by By Nigel Duara, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Phoenix highway shootings come after similar attacks in other cities

An Arizona Department of Transportation sign gives a hotline number for information on the recent freeway shootings as motorists pass under at the 202/I-10 intersection, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015 in Chandler, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX—In at least three cities in the last 18 months, drivers have been targeted by “serial shooters,” the term police use to describe a sustained attack by elusive assailants who randomly fire onto busy highways.

In Kansas City, Mo., police hunted down a green Dodge Neon with Illinois plates. In Colorado, authorities are still on the lookout for a 1970s single-cab orange pickup truck connected to the shooting deaths of two people on a highway.

Now in Phoenix, another shooter or shooters are following the same general script. Twelve vehicles, from sedans and box trucks to commercial buses, have been hit by BB shots, unknown projectiles and, once, bullets.

Phoenix drivers were rattled again Thursday with reports of two shootings on a busy stretch of Interstate 10, the 11th and 12th such attacks since Aug. 29.

No one has been killed or seriously injured. A teenage girl was hurt, but it is unclear whether she was struck by gunfire or by debris after a projectile struck the vehicle she was traveling in, authorities said.

Some of the attacks happened at night, some just before lunch, and all have taken place on a busy stretch of Interstate 10 from west of downtown Phoenix to the central part of the city.

On Thursday, hours after the second reported shooting of the day, the highway was buzzing with noontime traffic.

The stretch of the highway runs at a lower elevation than the surrounding ground and is crisscrossed by several overpasses. The area is close to the intersection of another major highway, Interstate 17.

On the closest exit, the 32-year-old operator of a Mexican seafood truck, who did not give her name because she feared retribution from the shooter, said she’s been nervous about the violence and the lack of information.

“They haven’t put out anything yet, no (sketch of a) face or anything,” the woman said. “So it could be anybody.”

As anxiety builds in Phoenix, police have offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of a suspect. Orange-lighted digital billboards warn “I-10 shooter” and ask drivers in the Phoenix area to call police with tips.

“These are bad people trying to do harm to good people,” Col. Frank Milstead, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, told ABC News.

In Kansas City last year, police linked at least 12 such attacks to the same .380-caliber weapon before they ultimately arrested Mohammed Pedro Whitaker, who has pleaded not guilty.

With assistance from surveillance technology — some of it under challenge from civil liberties groups — law enforcement officials used license plate readers to connect Whitaker to several shooting sites at the time of the violence.

Police in northern Colorado have not had as much success searching for a highway shooter who fired on drivers and pedestrians from April to June of this year.

In Arizona, Bart Graves, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, declined to say what caliber of bullet was recovered after the Phoenix shootings or whether the shots were fired from a rifle or handgun.

“The forensic details are not going to be released,” Graves said. “We have no information on that or motive until we have arrested a suspect.”

The Phoenix police are in the same frustrating position as other departments searching for a highway shooter.

Sometimes, as in Kansas City, the shootings can be solved by technology and a lucky break.

In other situations, such as the shooting death of a woman on Interstate 235 in Des Moines, Iowa, the evidence indicates the shooting was purposeful. In that case, Michele Davis’ husband, Randy, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

So far, police have found no link among the Phoenix highway victims, and Graves said police have no way to tell whether the shots are coming from a moving vehicle or a fixed position.

“At this point,” Graves said, “there’s no way to tell.”

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©2015 Los Angeles Times

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