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Help Arrives Too Late for a Mentally Ill Man

They see a lot at the state Employment Development Department in Fullerton, hard luck in hard times, people desperate for a job or even just a rumor of work. The wail of crying children seems always in the air.

So when Larry Anastasi came in the other day, nobody paid much attention at first. He looked old, older than his 69 years, and tired. He needed a shave. The suit jacket he was wearing had seen better days. None of this made him stand out.

It was his crying that made people stare.

Sobs were lifting Larry Anastasi’s shoulders, spilling tears down his cheeks. He would take his glasses off, wipe at his eyes, and then it would start all over again.

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“All I remember is he couldn’t stop crying,” says Jeannie Martinsen, an office supervisor. “He just didn’t know what to do. Finally we took him back here for some privacy. Then we all had to go into the stockroom ourselves so nobody would see us crying too.”

Larry had met with Dan Sanchez, the veterans employment representative, just the day before. Larry had served in World War II, a Navy man, radar, 3rd class, 1944-46. He was receiving government disability payments, but no one at the employment office was exactly sure why.

“He was really upset,” Dan Sanchez says. “He couldn’t pay his mortgage on his trailer. That was $180. He kept saying that the Bank of America was going to repossess. (Somebody) had taken off with all his money, $12,000. Then he was $1,200 in arrears in his rent at the mobile home park.

“The best I could do was refer him to the Disabled American Veterans in L.A. He was a lifetime member. I knew they had an emergency fund. So I told him I’d set up an appointment for him and told him to come back here the next day.”

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Which is what Larry Anastasi did. This was the day, a Wednesday, that the tears wouldn’t stop.

Jeannie Martinsen, especially, remembers it because she turned 50 years old. She and her husband had dinner reservations at a favorite restaurant in Pasadena, just the two of them, to celebrate in style.

But after this stranger had left the office, Jeannie says his haggard face, his story of despair, haunted her all day. She put the $57 she and her husband would have spent on her birthday dinner in an envelope marked with Larry’s name.

Other office workers contributed too; within two hours there was $137 in cash. By the next morning, there were bags of food, a sack of clothing, a certificate for $50 in groceries, a new razor, shaving cream and soap.

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Dan Sanchez, meantime, had arranged for $180 to be put aside for Larry by the Disabled American Veterans. Another office worker had already given him $10 to make sure he had enough gas money for the trip to L.A.

Larry was supposed to come by the Fullerton office the following day. The office workers hoped that by then, he would have eaten at the charity to which he’d been referred. On Wednesday, he said he hadn’t had a meal in three days.

Yet Larry never came back.

When his roommate, Andy Martinez, stopped by the office before the end of the week, the staff asked if something was wrong.

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Andy told them that Larry was dead.

Lawrence Anastasi died, alone behind the wheel of his car, close to 1 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 12. His station wagon, a 1982 Datsun, rammed a utility pole head on. It was on Haster Street, near Chapman, in Garden Grove.

Larry never knew how the office workers had planned to help him and he never made it to Los Angeles to pick up the $180 to stave off the creditors at his door.

“I miss Larry,” Andy Martinez says. “I wish Larry were back. Larry took care of me and I took care of him.”

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Nobody knows, exactly, why Larry died in the way that he did. The coroner’s office says it found no evidence of medical problems that would have precipitated the crash. Police are looking for leads, a witness who might have seen Larry driving, the kind of information that would fit into an official report.

Yet the real reason may be far messier than that. Larry Anastasi, according to those who knew him best, was mentally ill.

His daughter says that his family tried to help him, repeatedly, in every way they knew how but that their efforts never seemed to work out. He wouldn’t take his medication; he stopped visiting psychiatrists who might help.

Larry always said that he wanted to do things on his own, that he didn’t want anybody trying to control his life. But he was far too ill to help himself.

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“I’ve learned a lot about my dad in the last four days,” says his daughter, 35 years old, who is now sorting through his things, charting the path of her father’s decline. “Nothing that I hear surprises me anymore.”

Lawrence Anastasi worked as an inspector for North American Rockwell, in Downey and Anaheim, for 18 years. He was let go, during cutbacks, when he was 48 years old.

“He just fell apart,” his daughter says. “He felt betrayed.”

His maniac-depressive state was diagnosed soon after that. From then on, he never held a steady job. Disability payments helped him get by. His marriage of 32 years ended in divorce; the couple had four kids.

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“It was like living with an alcoholic, only without the alcohol,” says his daughter, the third born. “He’d have these maniac states, for months, when he wouldn’t sleep or eat and then he’d get really depressed, just sink, not even bathing, not doing anything at all. . . .

“It was very frustrating. We had tried, on so many occasions, to get him hospitalized. But with all the government cutbacks, with all this mainstreaming business, there was just no way. The only way we could get him in is if he were dangerous to himself or others.”

The daughter, who lives in Brea with her husband and three children, says she hadn’t spoken to her father for two years. She asked not to be named here. She says her siblings, too, were only in touch every now and then.

During the past year, Larry took in boarders at his trailer in Anaheim. Legal proceedings were under way to evict him from the park after months of not paying rent. At the time of his death, Andy Martinez and two other veterans, all down on their luck, were living in the rundown mobile home.

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“He would give you anything you needed,” Andy says of his friend. “He would give you his shirt. That’s why I miss him and you never find another person like him. He was a little weary, a little strange, but, you know, he was a good Joe ....

“I feel like I lost a comrade. We were all buddies, like in the battlefield.”

The workers at the employment office, too, are saddened that their help came too late. They are still touched by the vision of the weeping man who thought he had nowhere to turn. They’d never seen anybody quite like him before.

Larry Anastasi was battling demons that most of us will never know.

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“I think my dad is out of his misery and in a better place,” his daughter says. “I think he was really tortured. I’m really glad he is not sick anymore.”


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