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Worker Suspended After Intervening in Fight

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vons supervisor Bill Laubacher has spent the past week waiting to learn the price of being a good Samaritan.

The 11-year company employee said he was suspended without pay last week after going to the aid of a customer in a fight outside the Vons supermarket off Main Street near Ventura Avenue.

With two young boys at home, the 34-year-old Ventura resident said Monday that a week without work already has been a steep price to pay.

“I honest to God was just trying to do the right thing, what I hope someone would do if it were my wife or my kids,” Laubacher said.

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In the end, his story will probably end without the demotion or dismissal he fears. He even holds out hope of receiving his back pay.

Laubacher said he was told Monday that he would be allowed to return to work as soon as he was ready and that there would be no further disciplinary action.

“Right now it looks like it’s going to work out,” he said. “I just hope there’s no hidden surprises once I get back.”

A Vons spokeswoman at corporate headquarters in Arcadia said Monday that she knew few details about the incident or a pending resolution.

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But Martel Fraser, a representative of Local 1036 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, said she expects the matter to be officially resolved today.

“He remains suspended at this point,” said Fraser, who filed a grievance with Vons on Laubacher’s behalf. “But we expect the matter to be resolved to Laubacher’s satisfaction.”

If so, Laubacher said it will bring to a close a gut-wrenching week, which began June 14 about 2:45 p.m. with a call over the store’s intercom about a fight in the parking lot.

According to a police report, Laubacher said he ran outside to find a group of people attacking a customer, a 51-year-old transient who frequents the supermarket and who had just left the store.

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In an interview, Laubacher said he saw the transient getting up as two or three people started to drift away from him. When he questioned them, he said, they turned on him.

He said he pulled a box cutter to try to keep them at bay but never opened the blade. The melee continued, eventually drawing the mother of one of the combatants, the police report said.

Some witnesses supported Laubacher’s version of events, but others said his presence escalated the incident, according to the report.

Laubacher received a cut above his left eye that required four stitches. The transient required no medical aid. No arrests were made.

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Vons officials would not say Monday why Laubacher was suspended, but he said they told him last week that he should have called police and never left the store.

Laubacher also said a company official told him that he had endangered other Vons employees. Some had followed him outside and also became involved in the fight. Ventura Police Lt. Carl Handy said it would have been more prudent for Laubacher to have called 911 and provided officers a good eyewitness account.

“I think it’s foolhardy,” Handy said. “In this day and age, it’s risky to engage yourself in things that you don’t have the training or support to deal with.”

Laubacher agrees he could have done things differently. But he said he made his decision in a split second, thinking a customer was getting hurt in front of the store.

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“I think too many people just stand by and don’t get involved,” he said. “I’d probably do the same thing, except maybe I’d be a little more cautious. Hopefully, I’ll never have to face that decision again.”


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