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2 at Homeless Camp Arrested in Robberies : Crime: Officers question 10 people, hold two men as suspects in holdups of stranded motorists near a Boyle Heights freeway underpass. Seven have been robbed in last four days.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Police on Tuesday rousted dozens of homeless people from a Boyle Heights freeway underpass where six stranded motorists and a pedestrian have been robbed in the last four days.

Los Angeles Police Detective John Vach of the Hollenbeck Division said 10 people were taken in for questioning during the sweep of the underpass of the East Los Angeles interchange, where the Santa Ana, San Bernardino and Pomona freeways converge. Afterward, two men, identified as Martin Barroso, 26, and Jose Rosales, 23, were arrested on suspicion of robbery.

The string of robberies began Saturday afternoon, police said, when Jeff Varney, 35, of Cypress pulled his disabled car over on the southbound interchange between the Pomona and Santa Ana freeways and tried to use a call box. Varney, who had his two children in the car, was approached by two men, one armed with a small handgun. After a brief struggle, in which money and jewelry were taken from Varney, the gunman shot at Varney’s feet five times and hit him once in the ankle, police said.

There were two more robberies Sunday. At 11:30 a.m., Charles and Grace Zwerner of Cucamonga pulled over to use a call box. Two men approached their car and demanded their valuables. Grace Zwerner refused and was knocked to the ground after one man grabbed her purse.

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The Zwerners were just returning from a seven-day cruise on the Mexican Riviera when their 1985 Plymouth Reliant broke down.

“It scared me silly,” said Grace Zwerner, 68. “It was a horrible thing to happen to anybody, especially when you are on a call box on the freeway. When my husband was calling he yelled ‘Help, help, we are being robbed!’ I screamed ‘No!’ and began to scuffle and the man pulled me along when I wouldn’t let go of the handbag.”

Later Sunday, two men, one armed, confronted Jeff Faiz, 32, of Los Angeles after his car broke down on the Santa Ana Freeway south of Lorena Street. Police said that after taking his jewelry, the suspects fired two shots, but no one was hit.

On Monday, Oscar Solis, 23, of Los Angeles told police that two men, one of them armed, walked up to him after his car broke down on the freeway, and stole jewelry and $50. The bandits struck again later that day and stole $220 from Fred Lucero, 24, of Los Angeles as he stood next to his disabled car.

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Then on Tuesday, police said Leonard Gonzales, 23, of Los Angeles was robbed of $8 as he walked under the overpass of the San Bernardino and Santa Ana freeways.

Police had tried to stop the crime wave Monday by sending more officers into the area.

“We tried to have a high profile in the area yesterday, but it didn’t work,” Vach said. “So (on Tuesday afternoon) we got 40 officers and set up a perimeter around the area and conducted a sweep.”

The Zwerners’ passports and canceled cruise tickets were found at the scene and are being held by police.

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Vach said the area has had its share of problems, and police will continue a stepped-up presence there. “We are familiar with the area. The situation has gone on before.”


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