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Mystery surrounds Hawthorne killing of motorist in 'hail of gunfire'

Denise Berry and her 12-year-old son were headed to a barbershop when her son pointed out a man's feet hanging out of a car window at a stoplight.

The two shared a laugh, then continued on their way Wednesday afternoon. Berry, 44, noticed that a car was following them, said Lt. Dave Coleman with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. She saw a Hawthorne police officer, pulled to the side of the road in the 14200 block of Kornblum Avenue and told him what was going on.

He told her to pull in front of him so he could help her.

As Berry got back into her gray Mercedes, a Cadillac pulled up, and a man got out and began shooting. There was a "hail of gunfire," Coleman said. The Hawthorne police officer jumped out of his car and fired at the gunman, killing him.

Berry was also pronounced dead at the scene. Her son was wounded but able to run away. He was released from the hospital Thursday, family members said.

Investigators are still piecing together what may have led up to the shooting. Coleman said there were no gang signs thrown, and Berry did not appear to know the man or the two other people in the Cadillac.

Coleman declined to comment on whether the dead gunman, identified as Robert Washington, 38, may have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

On Friday, the driver of the Cadillac, 24-year-old Stanley White, was charged with murder. The other person in the car has not been charged.

As the sun set Friday evening, friends and family gathered near the crime scene to remember Berry, a single mother of three. They described her as a strong and charismatic woman, who made friends feel like family.

Memorial for Denise Berry

Her sister knelt down to light pink and white candles. The crowd blocked the sidewalk, as people wept for Berry, who lived in Hawthorne and worked as a Metro bus driver for four years.

People held plastic foam cups with candles inside. A bit farther down the street, a small vigil had been set up for Washington.

Lucy Rivera, who has lived off Kornblum Avenue for 15 years, said shootings don't happen in the neighborhood.

"I had to come out here and show my respect," she said.

Berry's supervisor, Venette Carter, said the bus driver wasn't only a colleague, but a friend.

"Even on bad days, she could be the most positive person," she said. "The workplace will definitely be different without her."

Many people mentioned Berry's smile and laughter. Cheryl Lomax, a longtime friend, said she used to sit on her patio, relaxing with Berry.

"Very few people will know a person where laughter is always enough."

-- Jerome Campbell

Times staff writers Nicole Santa Cruz and Veronica Rocha contributed to this report.

Photos: (Top) Crystal Allen attends a vigil in Hawthorne for her sister, Denise Berry, a Metro bus driver who was shot to death while driving her car. The victim's 12-year-old son, who was in the car at the time, survived. (Bottom) Mourners gather in memory of Denise Berry, 44. A policeman killed the gunman who shot her. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times

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