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City Workers Rescue Couple From Gang Attack : Heroism: Sanitation men intervene in assault on homeless pair. At least three injured in confrontation with armed youths.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alfredo Diego, Jesus Reynoso and several other city sanitation workers weren’t trying to be heroes.

But Los Angeles police said Wednesday the men probably saved three people’s lives--including Diego’s.

While waiting for a ride home from work on Tuesday, Diego saw some suspected gang members attacking a homeless couple and decided to intervene. When more than 20 gang members turned on Diego, some armed with knives and ice picks, his friend Reynoso and other co-workers rushed to his rescue.

At least three workers were injured, one seriously, in the ensuing fracas and the homeless couple suffered minor injuries. Police say they aren’t sure how many workers stepped in, but they all risked their lives.

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“These city employees came out, and good citizens that they are, tried to intervene and nearly got murdered,” said Detective Gil Uribe. “If (the gang members had) continued beating those two people, they could have killed one of them.”

In interviews, Diego and Reynoso said they wouldn’t hesitate to go to someone’s aid again. “They were going to stab Diego, so I went to help,” said Reynoso, who was knifed in his side. “I didn’t even know I was stabbed because I was fighting. He is my friend, and I wanted to protect him.”

During the fight, the alleged gang members threw a barrage of bricks, rocks and bottles at the city workers, police said. One worker remained in serious condition Wednesday after his head was nearly caved in by a flying brick as he came to the fight scene.

Reynoso, 47, was hospitalized overnight. On Wednesday, he recuperated at home.

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Diego, 35, who was treated for minor scrapes and bruises, was back at work as if nothing had happened.

“We all were scared,” Diego said, recounting the fight. “We weren’t ready for this. Everything happened so fast.”

Police believe the attackers were especially dangerous on Tuesday because informants have told them they were smoking cigarettes laced with cocaine and PCP. If police are correct in their beliefs about who the attackers were, the group also is suspected in a series of brutal attacks and street robberies in the San Fernando Valley.

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“They’re proud of that; that’s their business,” said Uribe, a homicide detective who specializes in anti-gang efforts. “All they do is rob, steal and sell dope.”

Police began to piece together a full account of the incident on Wednesday through interviews with the city workers. One of Uribe’s stops was the hospital where Glen Atkinson--the worker struck in the head with a brick--had regained consciousness Wednesday afternoon.

Atkinson’s condition stabilized, Uribe said, after doctors removed skull fragments that had lodged in his brain. His location was not disclosed to shield him from possible retribution by the suspects.

The workers told police that Diego’s shift had ended at 3 p.m. Tuesday and he was waiting for his wife to pick him up outside the sanitation yard, on Chandler Boulevard just east of Vineland Avenue. He saw the group of teen-agers punching and kicking the homeless couple, yelled at them to stop, then tried to distract the gang members so that the bloodied couple could run away.

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Instead, witnesses said, the attackers turned their attention to Diego. It was then that Reynoso stepped between them.

“The next thing he knew, he had three or four of them jumping him, beating him and stabbing him,” Uribe said. “Diego thinks (Reynoso) saved his life.”

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Within seconds, witnesses said many of the alleged gang members had drawn their weapons, while others were throwing rocks and debris. As more city employees moved in to help, the entire group of combatants moved into the city yard, where some employees sought tools that could be used as weapons. “We had a little fight here inside the yard,” said Diego.

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His wife, who arrived in mid-brawl to pick him up, drove away after a gang member broke her windshield. The gang fled when the LAPD was called, witnesses told authorities.

Police have no suspects and say they have few descriptions to work with because the battle and the attackers’ flight occurred so quickly.


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