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Healthcare reform activist bites off fingertip of 65-year-old man, authorities say [Updated]

September 3, 2009 | 10:29 am

Authorities today are searching for a healthcare reform activist who they said bit off the fingertip of a 65-year-old man during a fight at a MoveOn.org rally in Thousand Oaks. 

[Updated at 5:16 p.m.: A previous version of this post reported that the activist had bitten off the finger of a counter-demonstrator. Authorities now say that only the tip of the man's finger was bitten off, and that the 65-year-old victim told them he was not demonstrating at the time of the fight.]

“It all started with their difference in philosophy over healthcare reform,” said Senior Deputy Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.

The incident occurred about 7 p.m. Wednesday at a “We Can’t Afford to Wait Vigil” organized by affiliates of the activist group MoveOn.org, which drew supporters of President Obama’s healthcare plan, Buschow said. The rally also attracted several counter-protesters, he said. 

[Updated at 5 p.m.: During the rally at Lynn Road and Hillcrest Drive, near the Oaks Mall, the suspect and William James Rice got into a heated argument and began fighting, Buschow said. Rice, of Newbury Park, punched the suspect after the man called him an "idiot," Buschow said.


At that point, one man bit off the the tip of Rice's left pinkie finger, Buschow said.

Rice then drove himself to Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center, about a mile away, Buschow said.  A witness picked up the detached fingertip after the suspect spit it out and drove it to the hospital. Buschow said doctors told the victim that they could not reattach the fingertip because of the high risk of infection.]

Ilyse Hogue, director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org, called the incident “a regrettable act of violence” in a statement released this morning.

“While we do not have any more facts about what happened than what we saw in press accounts, MoveOn condemns violence in all forms,” Hogue said. “We support the Ventura County sheriff’s investigation into the situation. It is in our firm hope that this event does not detract from the tens of thousands who were out peacefully making their voices heard for health care reform and a public option.”

Authorities said they are looking for a white male in his late 40s or 50s who was last seen wearing black shorts and a black shirt. 

“We’re still trying to figure out who was the aggressor,” Buschow said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department at (805) 494-8201.

—Ruben Vives

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