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HIGHWAY SNIPER IN N. CALIFORNIA GIVES TOWNS A TASTE OF TERROR

A freeway sniper is hitting cars and rattling nerves in the rustic Sierra Nevada foothills, where many residents settled to escape such big-city problems.

"Not too much crime happens around here," said an elderly man who asked to remain anonymous at a country store in Clipper Gap. "You know, someone might break into your house, but, geez, not shoot at you."At least five vehicles have been hit by gunfire since July 3 on a busy two-mile stretch of Interstate 80 between the tiny communities of Applegate and Clipper Gap.

No injuries have been reported. But a Santa Rosa tour bus driver said he was nearly hit while driving passengers to a Nevada casino. And Tuesday, a bullet lodged in the roof of a station wagon a woman was driving to work.

The highway runs from the San Francisco Bay area, through Sacramento to Nevada and ultimately to the East Coast.

Sheriff's detectives believe the sniper is firing a .45-caliber handgun from a spot somewhere along the freeway's north side. Undercover officers, detectives and state troopers are scouring the area.

Traffic appeared normal on the freeway, but some residents said they are avoiding driving on I-80 while the sniper is at large.

"I moved here from L.A. 18 years ago - before they had snipers," Applegate resident Tobi Murphy said Wednesday, as she picked up her mail at the post office. "It's terrible. It's so sad."