IT'S 3:30 P.M., THE DAY AFTER A SIMI Valley jury acquitted four white officers in the Rodney King case. And I am standing at the corner of Slauson and Figueroa, reporting on the riot.
Nearby, a small group of onlookers gawk at a burning building. Around me the smoke from the arson fires billows and swirls, making it hard to see more than a few feet. A weary-looking CHP officer walks by, takes off his gas mask and lights up a cigarette.
Suddenly we hear, "Bam, bam," and a pause, then three more blasts. The cry goes up, "shots fired." Crouching down beside the CHP car, I see all the officers around me, kneeling with their guns drawn. But no one can see who's shooting.
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Without warning, a blue pickup screeches to a halt beside us. Out jump two very frightened white males in their mid-20s. In the bed of the pickup sits a very confused-looking pit bull. As the men, Pete Beuttel and Alan Crombie, emerge, we hear two more rounds, and a radio call is made: "Officer fired on. We need help."
Still shaken, Beuttel tells us that he and his friend are from Huntington Beach. They were up here working at a construction site when the rioting started. Leaving work, they tried to find a freeway but got lost. The chaos in the street funneled them into the heart of the unrest.
"We were a block away, when this gang of 10 black guys started yelling at us," Beuttel says. "Then one guy ran up to the truck and hit me on the arm with a stick," interjects Crombie. "The next thing I know glass is shattering all over us, and I'm hitting the gas to get the hell out of there," continues Beuttel.
Two bullets had passed over the dog's head. The rounds blew apart the back window of their truck and slammed into the dashboard between the two men. "That scared the hell out of us," says a very pale Beuttel. "Just show us how to get the hell out of here."