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Lathrop man, 61, fights for life

Gun jammed during armed robbery of gold chain

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Lathrop man, 61, fights for life

Witnesses to an attempted murder in Lathrop’s Sangalang Park shortly before noon Tuesday talk with deputies about the suspect.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

POSTED August 8, 2012 1:15 a.m.

LATHROP — A 61-year-old Lathrop man wrestled with a gunman armed with a 9 mm semi-automatic weapon in Sangalang Park shortly before noon Tuesday while his 5- and 6-year-old grandsons attempted to intervene.

Sheriff’s deputies said the gun jammed saving the life of the Filipino man who had taken his four grandchildren – aged 3 to 7 – to the park for their lunch and to play on the park’s swings and slides.  There were other children on the play equipment when the altercation erupted.

The victim said he had been swinging the two young girls after they had eaten their lunches and noticed a tall black teen sitting at a picnic table at the edge of the play area.  He said he was there watching his family and others for about 15 minutes before he walked to the other side of the bark-based playground and asked the older man to light his cigarette.

The grandfather said he told him he was sorry, but he didn’t smoke.  From that point the senior was knocked to the ground and fell on his own once or twice more, he said, while trying to get away.  The suspect said he wanted his gold chain that was around his neck. It was a chain that his wife had given him 40 years ago, paying some $400.  At today’s gold evaluation it is estimated to be worth about $3,500.

The older man – shorter by at least a foot in height – said he went to the ground falling on his side for the last time with the gunman straddling over him and pointing the hand gun in his face.  He remembered that his attacker had gripped the gun in both hands.  While fearing for his life, he held the barrel with only one hand as tightly as he could.  He said he managed to force the palm of his hand over the slider that left its mark with a small blood clot on his skin as he kept the semi-automatic from being recocked.

His two grandsons then rushed to his aid while a pregnant woman and her 9-year-old son ran to protect the children and bring them away from the wrestling men and the gun she feared would go off.   The suspect ordered them to get back away from him.

“I was fighting for survival,” he said. “I was fighting for my life.”  The victim said his aggressor yelled two or three times at him to let go of the gun.

He finally used his free hand and ripped the heavy gold chain with its attached cross from his neck out of total frustration and gave it to the gunman.  He said the attacker backed away from him and walked at a fast gait across the grass and Deerwood Avenue, then broke into a sprint up Talc Street holding the gun to the side of his leg.

The woman who had done her best to protect his grandchildren, said she immediately called 911 in an attempt to get first responders to the scene as quickly as possible, noting that her call had to go through the CHP operator.   Five Sheriff’s units, a Manteca ambulance and two fire units responded to the park finding the panicked group in the park.  Medics treated an elbow that had been scraped in the altercation along with a swollen right hand, a banged knee, also taking the man’s vitals.  He was offered an ambulance trip to a hospital to be further checked out, but he declined.

The other people in the park thanked the grandfather for his defensive efforts against the gunman, calling him a hero.  When his wife arrived at the scene, she said it was probably best she hadn’t been there, because she would have gone to her husband’s aid and they probably would both have been shot.

Sheriff’s deputies from Lathrop and from Stockton swarmed the area around the park.  They went door-to-door over two blocks with a police canine to homes in the area looking for the suspect and hoping to find someone who had seen him run from the crime scene.

The attacker was described as a light-skinned black male, standing about 5-foot-10 inches to 6-foot with a flat hat, a white T-shirt and an off-white or beige pants.  He was described by the victim as being in his late teens, but other witnesses said he was in his early 20s and with a light mustache.

Sheriff’s technicians developed a sketch of the suspect who will probably face attempted murder and armed robbery charges if he is found and arrested by investigators.

Crime Stoppers offers a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect.  Anyone with information may remain anonymous and still collect the reward money.  South County Crime Stoppers can be reached at 823-4636.

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