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Pony Ride Robber Escapes With $5,000 : Griffith Park: The gunman fired six shots. He injured no one, but wounded the innocent atmosphere of a long-popular children’s attraction.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A gunman held up the pony ride concession at Griffith Park on Sunday night, but he got away with more than a canvas bag stuffed with $5,000. He robbed Los Angeles of nearly half a century’s worth of peace of mind.

For 47 years, city children, sporting cowboy hats and colorful bandannas, have mounted the Griffith Park ponies for their first ride into the Wild West. The pony corral has been one of those special places, a small corner in the city’s largest park that brings together generations, races and cultures for $1.25 a ride. Then it happened. Six shots in all, captured by two amateur video cameramen and broadcast on the evening news. No one was struck, a result police described as a near miracle.

“The sad thing about living here all my life is that now I am trying to take my grandchildren to see things that I enjoyed, but it is hardly safe anymore,” said Patty Nelson of West Covina, who was visiting the ride Monday with her two grandchildren. “It has gotten to the point where it is not enjoyable. You worry about every place you go.”

Business was slow at the corral Monday, but that is not unusual the first day after a busy weekend, proprietor Hank Bronk said. Nearly 3,000 children rode the ponies Sunday, a big day even for a summer weekend. Unless police find the robber, though, the money is lost. Bronk has no insurance.

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“The pony ride has been here for years, and we enjoy being here,” said Bronk, 67, who has run the concession with his family for 12 years. “I love the kids, I love the animals. If the bad comes with it, we will take it. I am going to stay here.”

Bronk, who moved to Los Angeles from his native Netherlands in 1955, said operating a business in an urban park carries risks. In the past, it has meant run-ins with gang members, dope peddlers and vagrants. But this was his first encounter with an armed robber, Bronk said, and the first time since World War II that he has dodged bullets.

“More people are going to start taking things into their own hands,” said Bronk, a barrel-chested man with blue jeans hanging from a set of wide suspenders, to “start protecting themselves.”

The crowd Monday was mostly young mothers with toddlers, some in tiny bib overalls. A day trip to Griffith Park, they said, usually entails a ride on the children’s train, a visit to the carousel and a few times around the corral on a pony. Danger has never really been a consideration.

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After seeing the shooting on the morning news, Jackie Pepperman of Sherman Oaks considered keeping her 3-year-old daughter, Katie, away from the park. Like several other young mothers, Pepperman decided to make the trip anyway--but she was angered by the need to think twice about it.

“Finally, I thought it was silly not to come,” Pepperman said. “But I was shocked. . . . What kind of person would risk endangering children like that?”

It was shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday, when a man with large revolver approached Bronk’s wife, Karen, outside the ticket booth and ordered her to her knees. The concession had been closed for about an hour, and the ponies put away. Several families, however, were still picnicking on the nearby lawn.

Karen Bronk said she thought the robbery was a joke at first, but then the man pointed the revolver at her head and demanded her purse and cash satchel. Although Hank Bronk had just finished paying his 15 employees for the week, there was about $5,000 left, most from collections on Saturday and Sunday.

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Within seconds, the Bronks said, the gunman was fleeing on foot. He ran to a stolen van parked nearby, but was unable to maneuver the vehicle out of a tight parking spot.

Soon, Hank Bronk and his son, Nick, 28, were in pursuit. Nick threw a large metal pipe, used to lock a gate at the pony corral, at the van. Hank picked up the pipe.

The gunman fled on foot, but quickly returned--apparently to retrieve the satchel of cash he had left behind, police said. Reaching the van, he began firing.

“He was not a very good shot. . . . The guy was scared to death,” Hank Bronk said Monday. “I would be too if I saw some old man with a big pipe coming after me.”

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The gunman then ran up a nearby hill and, according to one witness, escaped in a yellow Cadillac with an unidentified man and woman. Detective Gary M. Greubel said police had no suspects.

Monday morning, Hank Bronk was showing friends a bullet hole in a wood railing and pieces of window glass in the street. He said he was prepared for the robber if he should come back, although he would not elaborate.

Across the corral, parents and grandparents watched their toddlers ride the ponies, wondering aloud what had gone wrong with Los Angeles.


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