KC police say 13 shootings aimed at drivers in one month could be connected

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04/07/2014 10:50 AM

05/16/2014 1:04 PM

Someone shot a driver in the leg on Interstate 435 near Interstate 470 Sunday night in Kansas City — the 13th such shooting at a motorist in the area within a month.

Concerned that the apparently random shootings will continue, Kansas City police urged drivers Monday to be vigilant, asked for help from federal agents and announced plans to strategize and share information among investigators daily.

The latest victim, a 57-year-old Blue Springs man, was driving east on I-435 when he heard two bangs. He thought he had run over something on the highway but then noticed a pain in his leg that he initially thought was a cramp, according to police reports. He reached down, touched his calf and saw blood on his hand. He pulled over and called 911.

Police found three bullet holes in the driver’s-side doors of the man’s vehicle.

The man is among three victims wounded in the 13 incidents reported since March 8. Another driver was shot in the leg, and one was wounded in the arm.

If the shootings are connected, the rate appears to be escalating. As of Monday, victims had reported at least one shooting each day since Wednesday, including two each on Friday and Saturday.

All the shootings occurred just before highway exit ramps or road splits, with the shooter firing at the last moment before veering off in a different direction from the victim’s vehicle.

Ten of the shootings occurred in Kansas City. The other three were in Leawood, Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit.

Eleven occurred on highways, most in or near Three Trails Crossing, also known as the Grandview Triangle.

Police think the shooter in most cases used a handgun. Officers recovered spent bullets from at least six vehicles. Most had gotten stuck in door panels, but one victim pulled what appeared to be a 9 mm slug from the gas tank of is vehicle, according to police reports, and detectives obtained another bullet from a victim’s arm.

The victim in the Leawood case told police that the driver of a metallic green sedan next to him was wearing a ski mask, glasses and a hood.

Police don’t have physical evidence linking the shootings, but they said the frequency, geographic area and times of the shootings indicate many of the incidents could be connected. Detectives don’t have a reliable description of a suspect to release but think the shooter mostly fires from a vehicle.

“The (suspect) information we have right now is so random,” said police spokesman Capt. Tye Grant. “There is nothing consistent for us to provide anyone at this time.”

Detectives are following leads. Grant said he could not release any details for fear of harming the investigation.

Police Chief Darryl Forté said Monday he thinks more motorists may have been victims but may have not reported it to law enforcement or realized they were shot at on a highway.

“I expect we will get more reports after this is publicized,” he said.

Analysts in the Police Department’s Law Enforcement Resource Center first spotted the pattern late last week when they identified four shootings with similarities. Further investigation revealed the other nine shootings, some of which had been classified as property damage.

Forté met with the analysts, detectives and FBI officials at a briefing Monday morning. He also asked the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for assistance. The group will meet again Tuesday to discuss new strategies and every day this week to share information, Forté said.

“This is not normal behavior,” Forté said of the shooter. “Everyone should continue to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity,” including apparent stranded motorists, pedestrians along the highway or occupants of vehicles covering their faces or wearing ear protection.

“Firing a gun inside a car is loud,” Forté said.

Victims of highway shootings should call 911 right away so police have a better chance to catch the shooter, Forté said. Some victims waited several days to report the crimes.

Kansas City police on Monday released their 10 reports, which showed that the victims’ ages ranged from 22 to 72. Six were men. Two victims were black; eight were white. They drove vehicles ranging from a 1999 Pontiac to a 2013 Toyota Prius. The shootings occurred from 1 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. Most were reported between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m.

In one case, a 22-year-old woman told police she had been following another vehicle March 29 on Ward Parkway and the vehicle ended up in the lane next to her car. When she got in front of Pembroke Hill School at 5121 State Line Road, she heard a loud popping noise, which she initially attributed to a car backfiring. She didn’t realize someone had fired a shot until later, when she removed her 3-year-old daughter from the back seat and noticed a bullet hole in the window next to where her daughter had been sitting.

Police say some of the cases could be road rage and unrelated to the apparent pattern of random highway shootings. One victim reported that several men were in a vehicle that cut him off Saturday at I-435 and Bannister Road. The men waved their middle fingers at him, passed a gun between the driver and front-seat passenger and fired one bullet that ricocheted off the ground and hit his vehicle on the passenger side.

Gunfire shattered the rear driver’s-side window and struck the wheel well of a 58-year-old woman’s vehicle March 31 as she exited U.S. 71 to get onto Interstate 470 on her way home from a martial arts class. The only car near hers was an old cream-colored or yellow car with a white vinyl top and tinted windows. The passenger-side window was rolled down and the back seat passenger window was open halfway.

“Now when I’m driving, I’m looking for that car,” she told The Star. “I still want to do my tai chi classes, but I might want to take another route.”

The shootings:

• 9:45 p.m. March 8, Interstate 435 and Interstate 470, Kansas City.

• 8:25 p.m. March 18, Interstate 70 and Woods Chapel Road, Blue Springs.

• 8:35 p.m. March 18, Interstate 470 near Colbern Road, Lee’s Summit.

• 1 p.m. March 29, 5121 State Line Road, Kansas City.

• 2 p.m. March 29, Interstate 435 and State Line Road, Leawood.

• 7:35 p.m., March 31, Bruce R. Watkins Drive and Interstate 470, Kansas City.

• 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Interstate 470 and Interstate 49, Kansas City.

• 9:03 p.m., Thursday, 109th Street and Holmes Road, Kansas City.

•  5:30 p.m. Friday, Interstate 435 and Interstate 470, Kansas City.

• 8 p.m. Friday, Interstate 435 and Interstate 49, Kansas City.

•  5:44 p.m. Saturday, Interstate 435 and Bannister Road, Kansas City.

• 2 p.m., Saturday, Interstate 670 and Interstate 35, Kansas City.

• 7:44 p.m. Sunday, Interstate 435 and Interstate 470, Kansas City.