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L.A. riots: Victims killed defending businesses, in random attacks

April 29, 2012 |  8:11 am

Map: Deaths during the riots

The Los Angeles riots began 20 years ago today.

The Times has been covering the anniversary for several weeks. One element is an examination of the 63 people who lost their lives amid the looting and fires. Ten were shot to death by law enforcement officials. Some of the cases remain unsolved. The Times' Maloy Moore has researched the deaths and produced a searchable map and database which has summaries of all 63 deaths The Times linked to the riots.

Here is a sampling of those who died:

Matthew Haines, a 32-year-old white man, was beaten and shot in the head Thursday, April 30, 1992, in Long Beach. Haines and his nephew, Scott Coleman, 26, were pulled from Haines' motorcycle at the corner of Lemon Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. Haines was beaten, kicked and fatally shot in the head. Coleman was shot but survived.

John H. Willers, a 37-year-old white man, was shot and killed Wednesday, April 29, 1992, in the 10600 block of North Sepulveda Boulevard in Mission Hills. The tile-setter, who was working at a Mission Hills supermarket with his Salt Lake City-based construction crew, was gunned down outside the motel where he was staying. The crew members had stayed up that night watching riot coverage on television. Around 10:45 p.m., they heard the sound of cars colliding outside the motel -- the conclusion of a chase in which, according to police, three people in one car pursued two robbery suspects in another. The crash brought many of the motel guests out onto the street. Willers stayed outside until the injured motorists were taken away by ambulance. According to co-workers, he returned to his room but decided to go back out half an hour later. Shots rang out, and he was found dead in the middle of the street. "He was caught up in the moment when the city was erupting," said Det. Woodrow Parks of the LAPD's Foothill Division. "It probably was a riot-related thing."

Wallace Tope, a 54-year-old white man, died Nov. 24, 1993. Tope had been in coma since he was assaulted April 30, 1992, in the 5500 block of West Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. A street evangelist, Tope went to a shopping mall at the corner of Western Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, where hundreds of people had gathered to watch looters ransack a Sav-On drugstore. There he began to preach, urging the crowd to stop the looting and place their faith in Jesus. As he was preaching, two men began to beat him. When he tried to flee, he fell to the ground and the men kicked him repeatedly in the head for nearly three minutes, witnesses said. Tope was rescued by a passing ambulance, but he lapsed into a coma shortly after arriving at the hospital. Two men charged with murder in the last major case of the Los Angeles riots each pleaded no contest in the fatal beating of Tope and were sentenced to prison May 9, 1994. Fidel Ortiz, 22, and Leonard Sosa, 24, both former warehouse workers for a Dodger Stadium concessionaire, entered the pleas to reduced charges of voluntary manslaughter on the same day they were to go on trial for the attack. Under a plea agreement, the judge in the case sentenced Ortiz to an 11-year prison term and Sosa to a six-year term.

Brian E. Andrew, a 30-year-old black man, was shot and killed Thursday, April 30, 1992, near Rosecrans and Chester avenues in Compton. Andrew, who worked odd jobs in construction, went out Thursday night and never returned. After trying to locate her son, Gloria Andrew filed a missing-person report six days later. The next day, a Compton police officer knocked on her door to tell her the news. Andrew was seen running from a nearby shoe store with other looters, police said, and was carrying boxes of shoes and a large bottle of beer. Andrew had dropped the shoes and was waving the bottle when a Compton police officer caught up with him in an alley and shot him once in the face as they grappled, police said.

Juan V. Salgado, a 20-year-old Latino, was found dead May 20, 1992, inside a burned clothing store in the 3100 block of South Main Street called Collective Merchandise Inc., where he was last seen.

Howard Epstein, a 45-year-old white man, was shot and killed Thursday, April 30, 1992, near Slauson and 7th avenues in Hyde Park. Epstein, who had flown from his Northern California home to check on his South Los Angeles metal manufacturing business, was struck in the head by a bullet that apparently came from a pickup truck that had pulled alongside his car. His car careened into a liquor store parking lot, where a crowd quickly gathered. Onlookers broke into applause when someone yelled that the dead driver was white, witnesses said, and Epstein's cellphone, camera, briefcase and pistol were stolen. Hostility was so intense after the shooting of Epstein that detectives towed away Epstein's Thunderbird while his body was still behind the wheel -- an unusual move.

Edward Song Lee, an 18-year-old Asian man, was shot and killed Thursday, April 30, 1992, in Koreatown. Lee, a Korean American, was attempting to protect shops near 3rd Street and Hobart Boulevard when he was apparently shot by fellow Korean Americans who mistook him for a looter.

Aaron Ratinoff, a 68-year-old white man, was killed Friday, May 1, 1992, in the 11600 block of Gateway Boulevard in Sawtelle. Ratinoff was strangled by a supermarket produce manager in a dispute over corn husks. Ratinoff would never have ended up at the Bob's Market on Gateway Boulevard in West Los Angeles if the store where he normally shopped had remained open during the riots. The produce manager apparently got angry when Ratinoff dropped some corn husks on the floor while shopping for vegetables, and the pair tussled. Coroner's spokesman Bob Dambacher said the criterion his office has used for riot-related deaths was simple: "Would this person have died at that particular time and that particular place if the riots had not occurred?"

Nissar Mustafa (John Doe #172). The charred and decomposed body of John Doe #172 was discovered Aug. 12, 1992, in Harvard Heights in the 1600 block of South Western Avenue. The body was found by a demolition crew clearing the rubble inside a J.J. Newberry store that was burned by looters on the first night of riots. The body was later identified as Nissar Mustafa, a 20-year-old white man.



Reader stories

Front pages from 1992

-- Maloy Moore, Sarah Ardalani, Thomas Suh Lauder,and Ken Schwencke