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Police stunned by mob violence after 2 are hit by cars

January 21, 2011 |  5:26 pm

Hawthorne police said Friday that they were shocked by a bizarre incident that began with a fatal hit-and-run accident and ended with a mob of people turning its anger on another driver.

"This one had us scratching our heads," said Capt. Mike Ishi. "It's such a tragedy. It's in a league of its own."

The series of events unfolded at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday on a busy stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard near the 105 Freeway.

It started when a minivan struck a man crossing the street. The driver sped away. Moments later, a second vehicle ran over the man, who was sprawled in the middle of the street. That driver also sped away without stopping, police said.

At that point, several pedestrians who witnessed the incidents raced into the street to help the pedestrian and block other cars from running over him. As one of the good Samaritans walked into the street, she was hit by a third passing car.

Unlike the first two drivers, this one immediately stopped and raced out of his car to help the injured woman. But police said the crowd turned on the driver, beating him up.

"These criminal bystanders assaulted the victim and ultimately stole his cellphone," said Lt. Gary Tomatoni.

The driver managed to free himself, jumped back into his car and drove away. Police said he left the scene in fear of his life. But he returned a short time later once police arrived, providing information to officers about the accident.

Even veteran officers said they were stunned by the chain of events.

Police arrested Tran Lewis, 32, of Long Beach on suspicion of beating and robbing the motorist.

They are still searching for the first driver who hit the pedestrian and have questioned the person they believe was the second driver. That driver’s car was impounded, and detectives are still determining whether to arrest him.

Ishi said more arrests are likely as police complete what is turning into a complex investigation, which involves numerous witness accounts as well as physical evidence.

"I've never seen anything like this in all my years in Hawthorne," he said.

The pedestrian died at a local hospital of his injuries. The good Samaritan suffered moderate injuries but as of Friday had been released from the hospital.

Officials urged anyone with information about the chain of events to call the Hawthorne Police Department.


Fatal hit-and-run accident leads to mob beating

-- Richard Winton