15 Who Took a Chance Cited for Fighting Crime

Times Staff Writer

Henry Avakian, one of 15 civilians honored by a Van Nuys police booster group Thursday for thwarting criminals, said being a hero has its rewards--and drawbacks.

After all, he wrested a 10-inch knife from a car thief and rescued an elderly woman from the vehicle. But the thief rammed Avakian's meticulously maintained 1982 BMW and escaped because an unidentified "fat guy" rushed out and grabbed Avakian by the neck, thinking he was the aggressor.

When time came to pay for the damage from the May incident near Sherman Way and Sepulveda Boulevard, the victim's insurance company balked at paying for the $3,000 damage to Avakian's car because it considered the thief an "unauthorized driver," Avakian said.

Received a Certificate

Avakian's insurer eventually paid but raised his premium by $358.

"It was so frustrating," said Avakian, 58, a travel agent from Encino.

To honor the trouble that Avakian and the other 14 civilians took to fight crime, the Mid-Valley Community Police Council held its eighth annual awards ceremony at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City.

All but one of the honorees showed up for a lunch and received a certificate of honor from Assistant Los Angeles Police Chief David Dotson.

The most harrowing story belonged to Yorck Rogge, 21, of Sherman Oaks. Rogge was driving last June in Van Nuys when he saw a purse snatching and chased the robber on foot.

"Go away or I'll shoot," Rogge quoted the robber as yelling at him. "I said, 'You're kidding.' "

He wasn't, and a bullet whined past.

"I didn't know he had a gun," Rogge said.

Police, who were called during the chase, arrived in time to catch the purse-snatcher, Police Sgt. Bob Schallenberger said.

Two others honored Thursday were brothers Fred and Jessie Smith. They had stopped for a hamburger in Panorama City after watching a Los Angeles Raiders football game last December when they heard a scream. A woman was struggling in the parking lot with a man trying to drive her car away with her in it. When the man saw the Smiths coming, he ran off.

The Raiders had lost that day. But Fred, 30, of Bakersfield and Jessie, 27, of Turlock were no less inspired. Each was wearing a silver-on-black jersey emblazoned with the number 32, which is worn by star running back Marcus Allen.

Displaying some moves reminiscent of Allen, they caught the man in front of a gas station across the street.

Among the other civilians recognized Thursday were Paul Bjork, 23, of Agoura, and Mike Landis, 21, of Westlake Village. Their description of a vehicle and a suspect in a purse snatching in Sepulveda led to an arrest, police said.

Antonio Deoca, 26, of Van Nuys and Jeff Kim, 15, of Granada Hills chased and held a purse snatcher until police arrived. In another case, Eulogio Lares, 26, of Arleta chased and helped police catch another purse snatcher.

Joyce Chamberlain, 59, of Sepulveda followed a suspicious man she saw climb a wall in her neighborhood. Police caught him in a nearby garage with a cache of jewelry.

Mike Watts, 54, of Van Nuys was driving his cab when he stopped and helped a police motorcycle officer arrest two of several men fighting the officer in the street.

Martin Martinez, 27, of Mission Hills foiled an attempted rapist who had attacked a woman walking down Balboa Boulevard with a baby carriage.

Craig Buelna, 25, of Van Nuys caught a burglar who fled from a house just as its owner, an elderly woman, arrived home.

David Chierignino, 32, of Burbank was in his car with Brianne Siddall, 24, of Burbank when a woman nearby yelled that there had been a purse snatching.

As the thieves pulled away in a car, the couple, who since have married, pursued them over several freeways. The couple used a car telephone to call authorities, who made the arrest on the Golden State Freeway near the Antelope Valley Freeway.

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