Calif. authorities searching for drive-by shooter

AP News
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Posted: Dec 24, 2009 5:21 PM

Law enforcement authorities in Northern California are stepping up patrols as they investigate a series of drive-by shootings in a Sierra foothills community.

Six shootings of vehicles were reported Tuesday near Valley Springs, about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento, the state capital. No injuries were reported, although some of the bullets narrowly missed the drivers.

There have not been any reports of shootings since then, Calaveras County Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Seawell said.

"Last night, thankfully, was quiet," he said Thursday.

News of the shootings prompted Cari Hernandez to be more cautious. She lives along the road where several of the shootings occurred, all during hours when it was dark. Four of the shootings were before dawn Tuesday, with the last two at 10:30 p.m. and 10:50 p.m. the same day.

"Coming home from Stockton last night we were trying to be careful," she said Thursday. "There's not really a back way we can take to our house. ... We were just careful, looking for anything suspicious."

Hernandez said she has lived in Valley Springs, a town of about 2,500 people, just three months. She returned to California from the Buffalo, N.Y., area to work at her sister's coffee shop.

"It's been pretty quiet, and then all of a sudden this happens," she said in a telephone interview from the shop, Common Grounds.

One small-caliber bullet smashed both a driver's side and passenger window, while another hit a windshield. Two others struck drivers' doors just below the windows.

Shots fired into a home in Valley Springs on Dec. 17 also might be connected to the highway shootings, officials said. Investigators said they were not aware of any connection among the victims and do not have a motive.

The sheriff's department called in all available personnel to patrol the Valley Springs area, a bucolic region of oak-studded rolling hills at the foot of the Sierra Nevada.

Liz Weaver, who has lived in the area 12 years, said shootings and other acts of violence are extremely rare. She and her husband operate a local martial arts school, Sheng Chi Kung Fu, and regularly travel the routes that have been targeted by the shooter.

Many of the roads are rural and have no street lights, she said.

Weaver said people are nervous, especially because many will be traveling over the holiday weekend, but have been comforted by the swift law enforcement response.

"There is a high presence of sheriffs in town; you can notice the difference," she said. "A quick response from our law enforcement puts everybody at ease."

California Highway Patrol officers in the area, who patrol state highways, also are on alert for anything suspicious, Officer Rebecca Myers said.

"It's so random, it's hard to say (what to do)," she said. "Just be very aware of vehicles that are approaching you."

Authorities are looking for a light-colored, late-model sedan that was seen after one of the shootings. Seawell urged motorists to be alert and call 911 if they see anything "even remotely out of the ordinary."

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Associated Press Writer Tom Verdin contributed to this report.