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Squirrel Goes Nuts, Terrorizes Neighborhood With Its Attacks

Times Staff Writer

When the call crackled over John Rondina’s radio, the 20-year Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy scrunched his face in disbelief. “At first, you know how you say, ‘Sure, sure. . . .’ ”

But as he reached the usually quiet La Puente neighborhood around Inyo Street on Friday morning, the deputy found five or six strapping firefighters and a handful of frightened neighbors indeed being held at bay by a tiny gray squirrel.

This was no docile, park-variety peanut eater, however. Everyone agrees that beneath its soft, smoky fur flecked with bright orange throbbed the mind of a rodent apparently gone mad.

“It was the craziest thing I’ve seen in many years,” Rondina said Saturday, recalling that he had even used a loud speaker to clear the street of bystanders.

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“When I got there one of the firemen was being attacked. . . . I’m not talking about it coming up to his foot or his ankle. It was jumping at him. They (the firemen) were gettin’ down; they’d have won a dance contest.”

For three days, other straight-faced officials confirmed, the squirrel had terrorized much of the neighborhood, biting several women, backing down no less than a pit bull and finally leading Rondina, the firefighters and an animal control officer on a 10-minute chase across backyards and over fences.

The squirrel eventually was drugged with chloroform and wrestled into custody, but died a short time later without giving its side of the story.

E. Keith Weeks, director of the county’s bureau of Public Health Investigation, shrugged it off as just another springtime police dragnet.

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“It seems like every spring we have the same thing. I would guess it’s either mating season or the little rascals are protecting their young,” he said. “They’re ornery little critters.”

Probably Not Diseased

Although an autopsy won’t be conducted until Monday, Weeks said, chances are slim that the squirrel carried a disease that would account for its unbecoming conduct. “We’ve never had a rabid rodent in Southern California,” he said. And while bubonic plague has been known to infect squirrels, it only causes them to die--not attack humans.

But attack this squirrel most certainly did, according to the sheriff’s report.

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The first victim was Alicia Sanchez, 65, who was hanging laundry in the backyard of her Inyo Street home on Wednesday. The rodent jumped on her and began biting and scratching her arms, “forcing her to run inside her home,” the report said.

A few hours later, the squirrel struck again, on a front porch two doors away. “It lunged” at 18-year-old Fidelina Bandera, bit into her left index finger and stubbornly refused to let go. Bandera’s mother, Maria Elena, grabbed the squirrel and flung it to the ground. But the animal simply charged back and bit the mother, too.

Woman-Squirrel Showdown

Early Friday, Rondina and other authorities were called to 16903 Hurley St., where a pajama-clad Antonia Magallanec, 54, had had a showdown with the rodent. Magallanec had put out some cereal to feed the squirrel, unaware of its criminal past, when the animal suddenly turned, scurried up her pajamas and bit her shoulder.

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“She said it felt like she’d got bit by a vampire,” Rondina said, although none of the victims received serious wounds.

After that attack, the hissing squirrel took off with Rondina and the others in pursuit. The chase ended when the animal control officer, armed with a syringe of chloroform, managed to squirt a couple streams into the squirrel’s face.

“I had never seen any animal other than a snake be that aggressive,” the deputy said. “It was quite an amazing thing.”


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