A real-life res­cue dur­ing the 1992 Los An­ge­les ri­ots

American Survival Guide - - CONTENTS - By Dave Strom

Los An­ge­les in 1992 was the scene of the largest ri­ots in U.S. his­tory. Most peo­ple are at least aware of the loot­ing and de­struc­tion in the “City of An­gels” that oc­curred dur­ing those few days. Many peo­ple across the coun­try and around the world saw the truck driver pulled from his ve­hi­cle and bru­tally and se­verely beaten. Many folks were trapped at home, some with­out power or tele­phone ser­vice. One of those peo­ple was Car­rie, an el­derly woman who is a fam­ily friend. She had no fam­ily close enough to help her. On day two of the ri­ots, I drove into her area, alone, to take her to safety. This is the story of that trip.


The first day, ri­ot­ing started in limited ar­eas in the af­ter­noon and soon spread. I ar­rived home safely af­ter spend­ing the day at my job as a line­man. My wife and in­fant daugh­ter ar­rived home later, safe and sound. Cell phones were not com­mon at that time so, like most peo­ple, I was on the land­line, con­tact­ing friends and fam­ily to check on their sit­u­a­tion. I tried re­peat­edly to con­tact Car­rie ... with­out suc­cess. Through­out the night, I re­ceived an “all cir­cuits busy” record­ing when I called. There was no point in call­ing the po­lice to check on her, be­cause we al­ready knew they were over­whelmed. We spent the night glued to the TV news re­ports. Mul­ti­ple fires rag­ing through­out the city had both fire fight­ers and po­lice over­whelmed. From news he­li­copter video, I could see poles and ca­bles burn­ing. I had placed many of those ca­bles, and I knew I would be re­plac­ing them in the next few days. Of course, the homes served by these ca­bles now had no com­mu­ni­ca­tion link with the out­side. My in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the streets would soon serve me well.


Early the next morn­ing, Car­rie fi­nally an­swered the phone. She was fine but had spent the night in the bath­tub. Some read­ers might find this odd; how­ever, when shoot­ing started in her high-crime area, the metal tub was of­ten the safest place to go. Like many in tor­nado-prone ar­eas, peo­ple hide their chil­dren or them­selves in cast iron bath­tubs. The hope is that while a bul­let can go through a wall or two, it will not pen­e­trate the cast iron tub. Car­rie wanted to go to her god­son’s home. But he did not know the streets as well as I did, so I was the log­i­cal choice to pick her up and take her to his place. As we made the plan, I in­structed her to have just one or two bags packed with cloth­ing, im­por­tant pa­pers and other musthaves. We’d need to move very quickly once I ar­rived, and I had no­body com­ing with me as a backup. The time was about 7 a.m. As I hung up, my wife asked if I had spo­ken with Car­rie; this was quickly fol­lowed by, “What are you go­ing to do?!” I had a sim­ple an­swer: “Go get her.” She knew I was se­ri­ous and in a hurry. She never tried to talk me out of it, be­cause she re­al­ized it was the right thing to do, and I was likely the only one who could do it. It’s com­mon for very rough ar­eas to be quiet early in the morn­ing. Drunks and drug ad­dicts usu­ally sleep un­til the mid- to late morn­ing, and thugs and loot­ers keep sim­i­lar hours. This ob­vi­ously was in my fa­vor ... but the clock was tick­ing.


I was al­ready dressed, so it didn’t take long to add a vest and other de­fen­sive tools. My jeep CJ was gassed and ready to go. Small and ma­neu­ver­able, it earned its keep that day. On the dash was my hand­held spot­light, which I re­ally hoped I wouldn’t need. (In the past, I had used it to tem­po­rally star­tle thugs who tried to block the street.) Other tools and gear were al­ways in the back. From news re­ports, I learned that the free­ways were clear. It was a quick drive with no traf­fic—un­like a typical week­day. The clos­est off ramp was lo­cated at a very high point. I drove down it slowly, and this al­lowed a great view, en­abling me to look at sev­eral op­tions for es­cape, if needed. From there, I could see to within about 200 feet of Car­rie’s home. The streets were fairly clear of peo­ple. Still, there was no time to waste. Fewer than 100 yards from Car­rie’s home, a fast food restau­rant was gut­ted by fire. A short dis­tance away, the gro­cery store and phar­macy had been looted. There were just a few peo­ple milling about or en­ter­ing the store. The street was littered with trash, a couch and other junk. The Jeep eas­ily rolled onto the side­walk to get through. Park­ing in front of Car­rie's home, I found the gate locked, but I quickly hopped over it. I knocked loudly on the door and called her name as I knelt by the wall on the porch, my 1911 at low-ready. Two guys walked by on the other side of the street. They did not no­tice me be­cause they were look­ing up—likely at a dis­tant po­lice or news he­li­copter. (Some folks have sug­gested they were look­ing at a guardian an­gel. I can­not prove this in any way, but it is a com­fort­ing thought.) Hol­ster­ing the .45, I got Car­rie’s house keys and her bags, loaded them in the Jeep and then re­turned for her. There was a short de­lay, so I called my wife on the land­line. She had a short and pointed sug­ges­tion: “Don’t call me! Get the hell out of there!” I fol­lowed her ad­vice.


Car­rie has a dif­fi­cult time walk­ing and uses a cane, along with the handrail I had in­stalled on her porch. About a year be­fore, Car­rie had been run down by some thugs in a stolen car. This was re­venge for in­form­ing the po­lice of crime ac­tiv­ity in the area. I helped her down the front stairs, locked the gate and then picked her up and set­tled her in the CJ-7. Not­ing that a few more peo­ple had gath­ered at the gro­cery store, I headed the other way.


We drove up Hoover, then right onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boule­vard and past the L.A. Coli­seum. Its park­ing lot would be full of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles in a few hours. It was a very wel­come sight that day. As a re­sult of our plan­ning and quick ac­tion, the drive to Car­rie’s god­son’s home was un­event­ful. Af­ter she was set­tled in, I went home. This was a quite few miles from L.A. and, at the time, there were no prob­lems in the area. For­tu­nately for us, the to­tal trip took un­der two hours. On TV a short time later, I rec­og­nized the strip mall that was one block from Car­rie’s home go­ing up in flames. We had been very lucky that morn­ing.


This “ex­cur­sion” took place more than 25 years ago, but the lessons learned are still valu­able to­day. You can view videos of these L.A. ri­ots on Youtube; but re­mem­ber this is but a frac­tion of the dam­age done and the dan­ger folks faced. Knowl­edge of the streets is vi­tal, es­pe­cially in ur­ban ar­eas. Be­cause of my job, I was very fa­mil­iar with them. How­ever, that would be un­likely for the av­er­age per­son. You should do a de­tailed map study of any routes you might need to take in an emer­gency. This in­cludes to and from work and fam­ily and friends’ homes, as well as other places you visit reg­u­larly. Church or sport­ing events are two ex­am­ples. Keep pa­per maps handy, and take them with you if you must aban­don your ve­hi­cle. If pos­si­ble, drive these al­ter­nate routes to get fa­mil­iar with them. Note any con­cerns. Prefer­ably do this early in the morn­ing and with a friend to dou­ble the vis­i­bil­ity of the route. Make notes on your pa­per maps, be­cause some signs or land­marks could dis­ap­pear in a se­ri­ous nat­u­ral or man-made emer­gency sit­u­a­tion. Do not de­pend on GPS: EMP or other events might de­stroy this sys­tem. Your gas tank should stay at least half full, and you should stay on top of main­te­nance items. The ri­ots were no time to have a dam­aged fan belt or a bum spare tire. If you must cross a rough ur­ban area, you

Right: Al­though miles from the flash point, first re­spon­ders and smoke from sev­eral fires can be seen.

i Above: The Los An­ge­les Times’ front page stated there were 1,000 fires in the city dur­ing the ri­ots.

Right: In L.A.’S Kore­atown, store own­ers take cover and have per­sonal firearms ready to pro­tect them­selves and their prop­erty.

Far right: The au­thor’s 1911 .45 ACP pis­tol—still a faith­ful sidearm, even over a cen­tury af­ter its adop­tion by the U.S. mil­i­tary.

Near right: GI sur­plus 1911 mag­a­zine pouches are still re­li­able af­ter 25 years.

Above: Smoke from fires such as this one filled the sky many miles away. You might need face masks or res­pi­ra­tors to operate out­doors if you are forced to be nearby.

With the al­most to­tal de­struc­tion of this gro­cery store in L.A., thou­sands of peo­ple had to find an al­ter­na­tive source for food and other ev­ery­day es­sen­tials. Left, top:

Left, bot­tom: Few have seen the de­struc­tion in a riot sit­u­a­tion as the au­thor did. It took weeks for him and his fel­low line­men to re­build the tele­phone com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work alone.

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