Religious Debate With ‘Cruisers’ Ends in Brawl

Times Staff Writer

A spontaneous theological debate erupted into a brawl Sunday night between Catholic members of a car club and “born-again” Christians spreading the word of the Lord at a Pacoima intersection popular with neighborhood teen-agers.

Each side accuses the other of being the aggressor in the scuffle.

Alma Bolanos, 19, acknowledges that she struck the first blow. She said she used her shoe to swat one of the numerous “born-again” Christians who converge on the intersection each weekend looking for lost souls among the young people who cruise the area.

But Bolanos says she and her boyfriend, Albert Rabago, reacted only to extreme provocation. During a 45-minute religious argument in a parking lot at San Fernando Mission Road and Laurel Canyon Boulevard, she said, the “born-again” Christians insulted her religion and made insinuations about her morality. At least three of them assaulted her after she hit one of them, she said.


“They told me I was Satan,” said Bolanos, who Monday had a black eye, facial scratches and a sore nose. “They said I was lost and they had been found.”

Rabago said: “It doesn’t make any sense. If they’re really Christians, why are they hitting girls?”

Henry Chacon of the Praise Chapel Christian Fellowship in Sun Valley called Bolanos’ version of events a falsehood. He says he and his wife, Patricia, were the victims and that he also has a black eye, allegedly inflicted by Rabago, to prove it.

“We’re not out there to be violent,” said Chacon, who said he was trying to pull Bolanos off his wife when Rabago punched him.


“The guy socked me in the eye with all he had,” Chacon said. “I said, ‘That was a cheap shot. But I still love you, man.’ ”

Police are investigating a complaint filed by Bolanos but had few details about the incident. Police and those involved said the intersection is the hot spot for the weekend cruising ritual by young people, some of them members of classic car clubs. Rabago and his 1966 Mustang belong to the Styling Classics Mustangs Club, for example.

Also participating in the Sunday night ritual were Chacon and about 25 members of the Praise Chapel congregation. They have been proclaiming “the gospel of Jesus Christ” regularly among the cruisers for the past several years without incident, Chacon said.

“We’re not out there to condemn people, we’re there to comfort them,” Patricia Chacon said. “We’re sharing personal testimonies. It has nothing to do with membership.”


The Chacons, who were accompanied by their 3-year-old daughter, say the teen-agers willingly took part in an extended conversation that touched on topics including why God can allow such tragedies as starvation in Ethiopia and the differences between Catholicism and “born-again” Christian beliefs.

But Bolanos and Rabago said that they and several friends only talked back because the Chacons were persistent and ignored their efforts to break away.

Bolanos, who wears a crucifix and attends a Pacoima church about twice a month, said she and her friends told the street preachers that they were more interested in advertising their “born-again” faith than in true spirituality.

“We respected them up to a certain point,” Bolanos said. She said she became offended when the Chacons and their companions criticized Catholic practices such as confession and insinuated that she was a “street kid” and morally loose. The Chacons deny those accusations.


Words gave way to blows at the end of the discussion, both sides agree, when one of the “born-again” Christians told Bolanos: “I’m going home to my father, the Lord Jesus Christ. Who are you going home to?”

Bolanos said that she felt the question was sarcastic and that she hit Chacon with her shoe because he laughed at her when she said she was going home to her mother.