Saturday, March 18, 2006

1,600 Denny's

March 18, 2006

Another Killing at a Denny's, Fourth in 3 Days

LOS ANGELES, March 17 — An 18-year-old man was shot dead early Friday and another man was wounded after a fight broke out at a Denny's restaurant in Anaheim, the third fatal shooting episode at a California Denny's in three days.

Four people have died and three have been injured in the shootings. A shooting Thursday in Ontario, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles, also stemmed from a fight. But a Wednesday shooting in the coastal town of Pismo Beach appeared to be a deranged act by a homeless man who shot at a noon lunch crowd, killing two before committing suicide.

The Denny's Corporation, which operates or licenses over 1,600 diner-style restaurants nationwide, issued a statement Friday calling the shootings "three separate and random acts of violence."

The Anaheim Denny's, which is next to Angel Stadium, attracts a crowd still looking for action after a nearby nightclub closes at 2 a.m., said Sgt. Rick Martinez of the Anaheim Police Department.

The altercation began at the nightclub and resumed inside the Denny's, spilling into the parking lot, where the 18-year-old man was shot, Sergeant Martinez said, adding that the fight was probably gang-related. The victim's name was not released.

A videotape of the Pismo Beach shooting showed a diner, Harold L. Hatley, lunging at the gunman, giving others precious seconds to flee before Mr. Hatley was shot dead at close range, the police said.

When Mr. Hatley, a 73-year-old retired oil worker from nearby Grover Beach, sprang from his seat, the police said, the gunman, Lawrence E. Woods, had already wounded a middle-aged couple and fatally shot Frank Valesquez, 73, with a revolver and a semiautomatic.

"Without question, it saved other people's lives," Cmdr. Jeff Norton of the Pismo Beach Police Department said of Mr. Hatley's action. "This whole thing from the moment the suspect entered the restaurant to the time he shot himself lasted 45 seconds."

Mr. Hatley's son, Robert Hatley, said his father ate lunch at the Denny's every morning at 11 but had been delayed almost an hour Wednesday because he was helping another son with housework.

"He was a creature of habit," Robert Hatley said. "He went to Denny's every day on his motorcycle. He was a heroic, courageous, fabulous, very funny guy."

Mr. Woods, 60, had until recently owned a company that repaired mobile homes, but the business failed and he was evicted, the police said. Writings described by the police as "rantings and ravings" were found in the van where he slept.

Mr. Woods had been convicted of several felony and drug-related offenses, the police said.

On Thursday, a 37-year-old man was shot and killed in Ontario after an early morning fight in a Denny's parking lot.

The police are still searching for suspects in both that shooting and the one in Anaheim.

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