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‘Other Trucker’ Sues L.A. Over Beating at Outbreak of Riots : Violence: Larry Tarvin was assaulted at Florence and Normandie before Reginald Denny arrived. City claims immunity under state law.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The “other trucker” at the corner of Florence and Normandie avenues, beaten by rioters shortly before Reginald O. Denny pulled up to the South Los Angeles intersection last April 29, has filed a lawsuit against the city for damages.

While Denny’s name is the best known among the motorists at that intersection, cameras also captured the plight of Larry Tarvin, a deliveryman who drove down Florence Avenue with a load of medical supplies bound for Chile and stopped for a red light at Normandie.

“That was the end of that,” the 52-year-old Tarvin said recently.

The slightly built driver was pulled from the boxy white delivery truck like a sack of flour, then beaten, kicked and smashed with a fire extinguisher snatched from his vehicle.

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It took three months for Tarvin to recover, but he has since returned to his job driving for an air freight company, which is owned, he noted, by African-Americans.

Tarvin’s is the third lawsuit filed by riot victims against the city of Los Angeles alleging inadequate response to quell the unrest.

City lawyers say that state law provides immunity from such claims seeking compensation for injuries and losses. “There’s just no duty on the part of the government to provide police protection, or any particular degree of police protection,” said Assistant City Atty. Ward McConnell.

But some victims, including Tarvin, have not been deterred. Before lawsuits for damages can be filed in court, claims must be filed with the government entity accused of responsibility.

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By late October, 2,365 claims had been filed against the city, more than 1,700 of them submitted by Korean- or Asian-Americans, most of them merchants.

According to the city attorney’s office, all of the claims reviewed so far--including Tarvin’s--have been rejected. The nearly 2,200 claims filed with Los Angeles County have also been rejected, as have 97 filed against the city of Long Beach.

The plaintiffs have six months to file lawsuits after the claims are rejected.

Already filed in Los Angeles Superior Court is a wrongful death suit by survivors of Matthew Haines, the motorcyclist killed by Long Beach rioters as he tried to reach a black friend. That suit contends that the state, county and city of Long Beach were derelict, along with the city of Los Angeles.

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Another suit has been filed by James Greer--a motorist beaten April 30 at the Vermont Avenue-Imperial Highway intersection--against the state, county and city of Los Angeles.

Reginald Denny’s attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., said the now well-known trucker will file suit within a month.

Korean-American and Latino victims have not yet decided what legal path to take as their claims are denied. “We’re looking at claims which may fit under the exceptions to the immunity law, looking at evidence of discrimination and denial of equal protection,” said lawyer John Adsit, who is part of a coalition assisting those victims.

Neil E. Campbell, Tarvin’s attorney, believes the city lost its immunity protection because police went to the Florence-Normandie intersection, but then withdrew. “They left knowing they had a hostile crowd who had already exhibited danger to motorists,” he said. “That’s abandonment.”

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A Los Angeles police spokesman, Lt. John Dunkin, said he would have no comment “on matters being litigated.”

Unlike Denny, who has almost no memory of his ordeal, Tarvin, a Norwalk resident with two grown sons, vividly recalls how the attack on him began.

With no radio in his truck, he did not even know about the Simi Valley acquittals of four Los Angeles police officers for beating Rodney G. King. “I pulled up and see a guy jumping up and down on somebody’s car,” he said. “Then I see a guy standing on the corner pointing his finger at me. The next thing I knew there was something flying through the windshield, the door went open and I went flying out of the truck.”

As he was beaten, Tarvin added, “I remember saying enough’s enough.” He doesn’t know who beat him, and has not identified any of the defendants facing trial for the series of attacks at the intersection on himself, Denny and others.

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Tarvin was saved by a young black man, who put him back in his truck and drove it to the nearest police station. Later, Tarvin tried to find his savior to thank him, but never could. “All I know is that his first name, ironically, is Rodney.”

It was the first of many kindnesses encountered by Tarvin, who was born in Arkansas but moved to Los Angeles when he was 12 and became a trucker at 17. He has worked for the air freight company, Pomona Valley Express, for five years.

While he recuperated for three months with rib and hip injuries, his employers paid all his medical bills and his full salary. Other employees sent him money.

He’s glad now to be back at his job, he said, but avoids the Florence-Normandie intersection. And he still has bad dreams, his wife, Juanita, said: “He’ll wake up waving his arms around, and yelling ‘enough’s enough.’ ”

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