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IN RETROSPECT 1988 : FOLKLORE

Barry Minkow’s magic carpet ride came crashing to the ground when he was convicted of having masterminded a sophisticated securities swindle. Minkow, 22, became a teen-age millionaire after launching the ZZZZ Best carpet-cleaning company in his parents’ San Fernando Valley garage. But prosecutors charged that the firm’s books were crammed with phantom earnings and that he cheated investors out of more than $26 million in loans and stock offerings. The fast-talking Minkow, who had claimed on the witness stand that the mob made him do it, now faces up to 403 years in federal prison.

Financial analyst Melinda Skaar, 29, and Vice President Stephen Oksas, 31, owed their positions at First Interstate Bank to superior skills in problem solving. Never were they put to the test more than the fateful night that the First Interstate tower caught fire. The two, who had been working late, were trapped by smoke on the 37th floor. Analyzing their options as they might discuss a business deal, Skaar and Oksas remained alive five hours by rationing breaths from cupboards and using their clothes to filter the smoke. They were finally rescued by firefighters after Skaar collapsed and Oksas lost consciousness.

It’s still not clear just why Texas truck driver Charley Tom Lee Jr. decided to put his pedal to the metal. But before Lee was pulled over at gunpoint about 35 miles later, he had terrorized Los Angeles freeway motorists from Temple City to Hollywood during an 18-wheeler tractor-trailer rampage. Hitting speeds of 80 m.p.h., Lee, 25, struck at least 24 cars with his 40-foot truck, which was carrying a cargo of ironing boards. Lee eventually pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon.

He may not be able to walk on water, but Wayne Gretzky can sure skate on ice. Gretzky, regarded as a national treasure in his native Canada, came to Los Angeles in what has been described as one of the biggest trades in sports history. The eight-time National Hockey League most valuable player led a surge in league standings and ticket sales for the Kings, one-time league doormats. Single-handedly, Gretzky, 27, made hockey a fashionable entertainment in a city that already had more than its share of diversions.

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For the past decade, Eldridge Broussard Jr., an ordained minister and one-time college basketball player, led a commune-style organization in Los Angeles and later in Oregon. Initially known as the Watts Christian Center, the group renamed itself the Ecclesia Athletic Assn. and boasted of preparing its youngsters for the harsh reality of life through “hard work and hard workouts.” Broussard, said to have a charismatic hold over his followers, became a focus of controversy when Oregon authorities accused members of his organization of being responsible for severe child beatings that led to the death of his own daughter, 8-year-old Dayna. Four Ecclesia members are now facing trial on manslaughter charges in Oregon, and Broussard’s younger brother, Alvin, has been charged with child endangerment in Los Angeles. Broussard, 35, who has not been charged, told Oprah Winfrey that he blamed his daughter’s death on “irresponsible media.”

Weeks after actor Gary Busey entertained a packed benefit of motorcyclists opposed to a mandatory helmet law, the one-time Academy Award nominee was critically injured when he fell from his Harley-Davidson and struck his head on a Culver City curb. Busey, 44, was on his way to a full recovery after neurosurgery. But legislation mandating helmets was reintroduced the day after his accident and will be up for debate early in 1989.

If auto insurance companies had post offices, Harvey Rosenfield’s photo would be prominently displayed. Working out of a cramped Santa Monica warehouse, Rosenfield led the grass-roots effort that earned a narrow statewide victory for Proposition 103, which calls for a 20% rollback in insurance rates. The fate of the ballot measure remains uncertain pending state Supreme Court action. But Rosenfield, 36, a longtime consumer activist who wrote the initiative, predicted that his voter revolt may soon appear in other states.

After hurting his back while working at the County Jail, Sheriff’s Deputy Deron McBee filed a permanent disability claim. The problem, prosecutors say, is that McBee, 28, pursued his retirement action at the same time that he was bending, stooping and gyrating in Chippendales’ male revue. The dancing deputy, who has since resigned from the Sheriff’s Department, is charged with perjury and two other felony counts.

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