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Van Nuys Man Enters No-Contest Plea in Acid Spray Attacks

Times Staff Writer

A Van Nuys carpenter accused of splashing acid on more than 500 cars and seven people over a 4-month period last year pleaded no contest Monday to charges of felony vandalism and assault with a caustic chemical.

Thomas Lee Larsen, 38, was charged in connection with dozens of acid-spraying incidents that occurred between March and July, 1986. The attacks on people and vehicles--mainly luxury cars, according to police--took place primarily in the San Fernando Valley but also occurred in the Santa Clarita and Simi valleys and in Orange and Ventura counties.

Larsen was arrested in August by undercover police in a Valencia parking lot. Police said they saw him leaning out of a passenger-side window, squirting parked cars.

His lawyer on Monday blamed Larsen’s acid-spraying spree on the man’s anger with the judicial system over a charge of attempted child molestation against Larsen. The charge was dismissed, but not before Larsen had incurred legal costs and been “put through the hassle” of police and court proceedings, the lawyer said.

Larsen was originally charged with seven counts of assault and two counts of felony vandalism in connection with the spraying spree. However, shortly after the start of the non-jury trial Monday, Larsen decided to accept a plea bargain worked out with prosecutors in which two counts of assault and one count of felony vandalism were dropped.

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Larsen is scheduled for sentencing March 17 on the remaining five counts of assault and one count of felony vandalism. He could receive up to eight years in state prison.

The trial before San Fernando Superior Court Judge Robert D. Fratianne centered on the injuries of Teresa Lopez, a 10-year-old Canoga Park girl who was splattered with sulfuric acid last March, Deputy Dist. Atty. Leland B. Harris said.

Harris said prosecutors offered the plea bargain because they had insufficient evidence to prove that Lopez’s injuries met the legal standard of “great bodily injury.”

Child Testifies

Lopez testified that she had been sprayed with a liquid on March 17, 1986, while she stood between two parked cars, waiting to cross Bryant Street just west of De Soto Avenue.

“A man in a tan van drove by, leaned out the passenger side and squirted something in my eye,” testified Lopez, a fifth-grader at Limerick Avenue School in Canoga Park.

However, after her mother washed the burn, the pain subsided, Lopez said. She told the court that she did not see a doctor and that the attack had left no lasting discomfort or discoloration.

Fratianne said that Lopez suffered “minor or moderate injuries of a temporary nature which do not constitute great bodily injury. There’s no medical testimony that shows any substantial injury.”

Other victims of the “acid sprayer” suffered lesser injuries and none was hospitalized, authorities said.

“Temporary Insanity”

Larsen’s attorney, J. Patrick Maginnis, said in an interview outside the courtroom that Larsen’s rampage was brought on by “temporary insanity” stemming from his anger over a just-dismissed court charge of attempted child molestation.

“He went on a rampage after that . . . it wasn’t like he wanted to go hurt anybody, he just pretty much went insane,” Maginnis said. “It was a total aberration from his personality. He’s meek and mild-mannered and generally stays to himself.”

Maginnis said that Larsen never saw his victims and that his intent was to “just shoot at cars.”

Larsen is free on $100,000 bail.

A no-contest plea is the legal equivalent of a guilty plea, but, in some circumstances, cannot be used against the defendant in a civil case arising from the incident.


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