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A Real Bargain Hunter 

Wednesday, Mar 22 2000
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Seems like every week OffBeat discovers that another seemingly benign pastime could be hazardous to our health. But yard sales? That’s what we hear from Deputy District Attorney Bob Savitt, who dubbed a murder and second-degree robbery in West Los Angeles in February "Yard Sale Gone Bad."

"Theoretically, it is a death-penalty case," Savitt said of the homicide of 80-year-old Edward Joseph Brennan.

Part-time antique dealer Diane Jean Wood, 33, was attending Brennan’s yard sale when the pair got into a squabble over the price of an antique plate, Savitt said. Wood offered $3, but Brennan insisted on $5. Wood attempted to flee with the plate, but Brennan stepped in front of her car. Wood nudged him with her bumper, then backed up and gunned forward again, knocking Brennan to the ground. The elderly gentleman died at the scene; Wood spent the rest of the day in the desert, gambling at an Indian casino, Savitt said.

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Wood’s attorney says his client has a long history of schizophrenia and has been in and out of mental hospitals since the age of 19. "That this would constitute a robbery and murder is an incredible stretch," said Deputy Public Defender William Sadler. "She clearly didn’t mean to hurt this person. Everyone knows it. She feels terrible that this occurred. She has suffered a lot from this disease and is not a criminal."

Still, OffBeat plans to keep our distance from yard sales; we once watched two competing bargain hunters go psycho over a bubble light fixture. Wood is being held without bail in the women’s unit at Twin Towers jail in downtown Los Angeles. A preliminary hearing is pending.

—Christine Pelisek

FLUNKING DR. LAURA

Now, OffBeat enjoys political organizing, especially when it’s combined with brunch and boutique-ing. So we jumped at a chance to join the Dr. Laura Schlessinger protest this week outside Paramount Studios, which plans to air a fall TV show featuring the noted radio counselor and homophobe.

But imagine our amazement when, amid talk of Rigoletto, Jackie Goldberg and the new Prada ads, a member of OffBeat’s brunch posse revealed that he’d flunked Schlessinger’s 1979-80 "Human Sexuality" class at USC. And yep, this self-described "disgruntled former student" of Schlessinger is a "friend of Dorothy’s" — which makes Dr. Laura the wicked witch of this tale.

"Her course was basic plumbing — the nuts-and-bolts sex ed with an emphasis on science. [Schlessinger’s degree is in physiology, not psychology.] Under no circumstance could the class be considered erotic or titillating, so lots of students were disappointed," said former Trojan Vern.

"It was taught in Bovard Auditorium, which is huge. She wore fake Chanel. She must have had about 20 teaching assistants, who all acted like acolytes to the high priestess. The mainly male corps of TAs stood around like attendants or ushers. At the end of the lecture, Schlessinger would be spent, practically crippled. One of her TAs would wrap her up like a baby and lead her away," an image our pal associates with David Bowie’s Cracked Actor character, an exhausted rock star overwhelmed by his talent and fame.

While Vern was out and proud during college, he doesn’t remember Schlessinger saying anything overtly homophobic — his attendance admittedly was a bit spotty — although he does recall a withering putdown of a student who asked a question about homosexuality.

Some 400 men, women and children marched Tuesday against Dr. Laura; 50 pro-Schlessingerites staged a counter-demonstration (sample slogan: "Children Against Anti-Species Propagation"). The controversy is unlikely to go away; Schlessinger inflamed opposition with her recantation last week of her earlier tepid apology for calling gays, among other things, "biological errors."

"What she says is defamatory, and Paramount does not support defamatory speech," said GLAAD deputy director for communications Stephen Spurgeon.

"It’s not about freedom of speech — it’s about corporate responsibility," said Robin Tyler of the StopDrLaura.com coalition. "Corporations need to understand that we’re no longer asking for acceptance. We’re demanding respect, the same respect that should be granted to all minorities, which includes not being vilified in light of religion."

"It’s obscene that she’s making money off the very people she says are ‘biological errors,’" said Vern, who carried a pink-glitter-lettered sign during the march. He was kind enough to offer some fashion tips to his former teacher, however: "Get a gay hairdresser. She also needs to lose the Sophia Loren eyewear. It’s a look that doesn’t work for Sophia Loren." —Sandra Ross

CASTAWAY GETS GORED

These are buen días for voters, or at least that is what the presidential candidates would like to have their amigos believe. Just look at the slew of candidates speaking español in key states such as California, Texas and Florida — and not just about anything. They’re speaking out on Latino issues. And what might those be? Well, apparently, "little Elian Gonzalez," at least in Florida, where presidential hopeful Al Gore recently waxed voluble on the fate of the 6-year-old caught up in a bitter international custody battle. Florida’s powerful Cuban conservative community wants to keep Elian, whose mother died during their desperate ocean journey from the island. Elian’s father in Cuba wants him back.

"I think there should be a court hearing to determine who should have custody," Gore told Univision’s Jorge Ramos. "I think the decision should be based exclusively on one factor — not based on politics nor diplomacy, but [on] what is in the best interest of this child. The father does not have the freedom to express his true beliefs. Sister O’Laughlin met with the grandmothers and concluded that the boy should remain here. The mother of the boy lost her life trying to assure Elian’s freedom, and I think her wishes deserve to be respected. But I think the decision over what is in the best interest of the boy should not be made by politicians or by INS officials. The decision should be made in a court of law. This is how we do things in the United States when there is a custody issue."

Gore’s nonresponse response should pass muster with Miami Cubans. But what about Cuban President Fidel Castro, who last week signaled that his government might retaliate for the Gonzalez affair by sending a new tsunami of immigrants to U.S. shores? Cuban officials contend that withholding Elian violates migratory and diplomatic accords. And that means Cuban officials don’t have to play by the rules anymore.

So what does Uncle Sam have to say? "We reject any notion that the U.S. government is less than fully complying with any accords," said a U.S. State Department official. Could everyone’s favorite castaway since Gilligan set off a repeat of the 1980 Cuban boatlifts? Stay tuned. —Sandra Hernandez

RUCKUS WITH THE ROCK

Why would Prudential Insurance Company of America’s public relations firm invite OffBeat to a party for Best Supporting Actor nominee Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile), then refuse to let us in? That’s what we were trying to figure out as we waited for an hour outside the affair at the swanky Atlantic eatery, only to hear from Karen Lewis of Going Public PR that the "powers that be" had decided to disinvite the press. Eyeing TV-news crews passing freely in and out of the soiree, we tried to get Lewis to identify the etiquette-impaired muckamucks, but to no avail.

Prudential later apologized, saying Lewis blew it. It turns out that wasn’t the only mistake Going Public made that evening. The firm’s press release wrongly identified Prudential as host of the event; the real hosts were Duncan pals Holly Robinson Peete (WB’s For Your Love) and her husband, football pro Rodney Peete, according to Robinson Peete’s mother and manager, Dolores Robinson.

"The corporate sponsor seemed to get more credit than the persons giving the party," Robinson fumed. "Publicity put the news flash out wrong. Going Public made it look like Prudential was holding the party instead of being the sponsor."

As for Prudential’s sponsorship (read: helping to foot the bill), it’s no secret that the Rock and other big firms are courting the black middle class these days (Duncan is African-American). Prudential PR spokesperson Marilyn Crawford called the party an opportunity to "celebrate the diversity and strength of America."

Does that mean Duncan owns a piece of the Rock? "Michael doesn’t know Prudential," Robinson said. —Christine Pelisek

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