ESCAPE FROM L.A.
A real-life rescue during the 1992 Los Angeles riots
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.
TIME TO SADDLE UP
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.
THE FIRST DAY, RIOTING STARTED IN LIMITED AREAS IN THE AFTERNOON AND SOON SPREAD.
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.
GETTING OUT OF DODGE
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.
THERE WAS NO POINT IN CALLING THE POLICE ... BECAUSE WE ALREADY KNEW THEY WERE OVERWHELMED.
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.
BUG-OUT TRAVEL TAKEAWAYS
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.