State officials say cameras can limit freeway shootings

SACRAMENTO (KTVU) -- Bullets flying on Bay Area freeways and 2 Investigates has uncovered numbers that are staggering -- more than 80 shootings on local freeways in the past 16 months.

KTVU obtained a breakdown of where the shootings have taken place - and asked the state's top transportation official how he's responding to demands for cameras to be installed on the highways.

Since November 2015, eight people have been shot and killed on the freeway, and more than three dozen people have been hurt. Local leaders, victims and their families say cameras will solve shootings and act as a deterrent. 

Demarcus Doss, 24, was shot dead while driving a minivan on interstate 80 in Richmond earlier this month, an innocent victim of mistaken identity.

"He wasn't affiliated with any gangs," said Doss' mother, Cletus Henderson. "He was just driving along like you or me or someone else would do."

Doss' last act was to save his friend's life by shielding her body, as a teenage shooter in another car opened fire on them.

It turns out, the gunman was looking for someone else.

Doss died from his injuries at a hospital. 

"He was willing to come to anybody's rescue, like he did when he left here," Henderson said. "I never thought anything would happen to him."

But Doss, who had hoped to become a probation officer, is now the eighth person to die in a freeway shooting since fall 2015.

And the statistics obtained by KTVU are startling. In that same time frame, there have been more than 80 shootings across the Bay Area. The number includes fatal, non-fatal and shootings in which no one is struck by gunfire.

There have been two shootings in Solano County, 33 in Alameda, one in San Mateo, five in San Francisco and eight in Santa Clara County.

But the most shootings and deaths happened in Contra Costa County - 35 total - with the majority on Interstate 80 and Highway 4.

The CHP has said- repeatedly - that most of the car-to-car shootings are targeted incidents involving gangs and that the public shouldn't be worried.

"The CHP wants to reassure the public that they are safe as they drive the freeways and highways in our jurisdiction," said Paul Fontana, chief of the CHP's Golden Gate Division. "As I have noted, the biggest danger for most of the public on the highways is from traffic collisions." 

But that doesn't sit well with several current or former mayors of cities along Interstate 80.

"Innocent lives are being lost, and I think we want to make sure that we can minimize the danger to all our residents," said San Pablo Mayor Cecilia Valdez.

Dan Romero, a Hercules councilman and former mayor, said, "When you drive on the freeways in the Bay Area, the public is not safe."

For almost a year now, city officials and the Contra Costa County district attorney have asked the state to fund cameras to help catch freeway shooters. 

"We've had some funding committed from the county, we've had some funding committed from local police departments," said Contra Costa DA Mark Peterson. "To my knowledge, we have no funding that's set by the state or any other organization."

San Pablo and Pittsburg have spent money for cameras on the freeway.  But smaller cities don't have the funds.
 
"The state is responsible for the freeway. Bottom line," said Pinole Mayor Debbie Long.
 
So 2 Investigates went to Sacramento to get some answers. KTVU crime reporter Henry Lee spoke with Brian Kelly, secretary of the state transportation agency. He oversees Caltrans and the CHP.
 
"Funding is an issue, and we're going to have to find more funding for more cameras, and so we're working on it," Kelly said.
 
"What would you say to the people who are frustrated, why is it taking time, 'I wish I could have it now.' People are dying, people are getting shot. What would you say to them?" Lee asked Kelly.
 
"Listen, I grew up in the bay area, OK? Kelly said. "I care about the safety of people who are on the roads in the Bay Area. My family still lives in the Bay Area. So I share the concern. We have thrown a lot of resources at this."
 
He said his heart goes out to the victims and their families
 
"I would express my deepest condolences. I can't imagine that pain," Kelly said. 
 
But he says cameras - which would be supplemented by license plate readers and Shot Spotter gunfire detectors -  aren't the only answer.
 
"I also don't want people to feel like cameras will stop all things. It's an investigative tool," Kelly said.
 
The CHP says police and citizens - and not cameras - led to the arrest of Doss' killers.
 
But Doss' mother says cameras can be a deterrent to shootings.
 
"I feel like if there were cameras, there wouldn't be that many," she said.
 
Kelly said a task force of local Contra Costa County police chiefs, the CHP and prosecutors have "developed a plan. They handed it to us. We're going to work through it and respond as quickly as we can. I mean, that's what we can say."
 
It's still unclear exactly when the Bay Area might get state funding for cameras. But officials say it'll take a combination of technology and witnesses coming forward to help stop - and solve - these freeway shootings.

 

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