Victim of mob assault meets man who saved his life

May 09, 1992|By Penelope McMillan | Penelope McMillan,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Eight days after their lives crossed at a burning street corner, Fidel Lopez met the Rev. Bennie Newton.

In the chaotic early hours of the riots, Mr. Lopez, a Latino, had been one of first victims of the mob cruelty, torn out of his truck and beaten senseless. Mr. Newton, a black minister, covered Mr. Lopez's body with his own, screaming: "Kill him and you have to kill me, too."

The 59-year-old minister's actions were caught on videotape by an amateur photographer.

Thursday night, they faced each other outside a house in Torrance, Calif., hugging and crying.

"I passed through a bad moment," the 47-year-old Mr. Lopez said. "I thank you. You saved me."

"You look well," Mr. Newton said softly.

Of course, Mr. Lopez did not. His face was swollen from the 29 stitches in his forehead because of a blow from an auto stereo, 17 stitches to one ear -- someone tried to slice it off -- and 12 stitches under the chin. Though no bones were broken, his body still aches from blows to his back and shoulder, and the pain in his head is unceasing.

The two men began to relive that terrible night as they sat together on a couch in a home owned by Mr. Lopez's brother-in-law. Mr. Lopez's family has not yet dared return to their South Central Los Angeles neighborhood.

A native of Guatemala, Mr. Lopez has been in the United States for more than 20 years and works for a contractor. He was still struggling to understand what happened to him that night.

He had been returning to his rented home, and knew nothing of the acquittals in the Rodney G. King beating case. While waiting at a red light, Mr. Lopez saw a liquor store in flames and figured somebody was fighting.

Mr. Newton, pastor of the Light of Love Church in Los Angeles, had gone home from his weekday job running a carpet-cleaning business when he saw a TV report showing trucker Reginald O. Denny being beaten at the intersection.

He was planning to go a ministers' peace rally at the First AME Church that night, but he decided to go to the corner instead.

"Something," he said, "was driving me."

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