While Vacationing in Hawaii : Public Sympathy Heals Mugging Victim's Spirits

Times Staff Writer

A brush with a common mugger has left Antoinette Di Santo feeling like royalty.

The 78-year-old widow was vacationing in Hawaii with the Downey Senior Citizens Recreation Club on Sept. 28 when a mugger snatched her purse. She was knocked to the ground in the attack, breaking her hip.

Di Santo admits there were moments when she felt sorry for herself, like the day she suffered through the first of two hip operations at Hilo Hospital in Hawaii. She recalled sobbing to a doctor, "I'm all alone. My husband's gone."

But after press accounts of her mugging, Di Santo was overwhelmed by a public outpouring of gifts and sympathy that lifted her spirits.

Better Than the Queen

"Queen Elizabeth never had it so good," she told a press conference at Hilo Hospital on Oct. 19, her last day in Hawaii. "I am not too good at words, but words can't express my gratitude."

While Di Santo was recovering at Hilo Hospital, civic organizations raised more than $1,000 in donations for the woman, who lost $50 in cash, $250 in traveler's checks and $1,000 worth of jewelry in the attack. Some of the donations were sent by well-wishers who addressed their gifts simply to "the lady who got mugged."

As she lay in her hospital bed, Di Santo was greeted daily by local officials and residents, who came bearing bouquets of native orchids and anthuriums. When she returned to Downey, she carried two shopping bags full of get-well cards and letters.

Community Unhappy

"The whole community just felt very badly," explained Mary Sakanashi, nursing supervisor at Hilo Hospital. "The feeling here is like when guests come on vacation; it is like people coming to your home."

"It's the aloha spirit," said editor Andy Baclig of the Hawaii Herald-Tribune, which ran 10 stories on Di Santo during her island stay.

"When a person gets victimized, we like to show them Hawaii is not like Los Angeles or New York," said Lt. Bill Perreira of the Hawaii County Police.

Two weeks ago, a Hawaii County Police captain telephoned Di Santo to tell her that the 16-year-old boy who police believe had attacked her had been arrested as part of a seven-member youth gang. The captain also told Di Santo that the diamond pendant, given to her by her late husband Sam, had been recovered.

At Rehabilitation Center

Back in California, Di Santo spent the next three weeks at Alamitos Belmont Rehabilitation Hospital in Long Beach before going home last Thursday. She greeted visitors this week with a spunky smile, while moving gingerly with the aid of a walker.

With an artificial hip joint, Di Santo says she realizes there are things she will never be able to do again. She said she will miss kneeling in her garden and tending her roses, or dancing the faster numbers at senior citizen dances.

"A nice slow waltz is about all I can do anymore," she said.

The strongest memory of her Hawaiian trip, however, seems to be the hospitality of the natives. Di Santo speculated on how much attention she would have received if mugged in Los Angeles.

"If only we could be like that," she said, "what a wonderful world this would be."

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