Wallace Tope Jr., Evangelist and Street Preacher
Evangelist, in Coma Since Riot Beating, Dies
By ERIC MALNIC and MILES CORWIN L.A.TIMES STAFF WRITERS
Street evangelist Wallace Tope Jr.who was beaten and kicked when he tried to stop looters during the 1992 riots has died after lying in a coma for 19 months, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Wednesday.
Prosecutors said they have not decided what additional charges may be filed against Fidel Ortiz, 22, and Leonard Sosa, 24, both of whom already have pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and aggravated mayhem in the attack on Tope.
Tope's death is the 55th fatality linked to the riots. Officials at the Pasadena convalescent hospital where he died Nov. 24 at the age of 54 said he never regained consciousness after falling into the coma a few minutes after the April 30, 1992, attack.
Police at first were mystified as to why an evangelist such as Tope would venture into a dangerous riot zone to urge an end to the violence. But his friends said he had a history of risky evangelical missions smuggling Bibles into the Soviet Union and Christian literature into Eastern Europe before the fall of communism there.
The friends said that when the riots began last year in Los Angeles and Tope saw the looting on television, he asked associates at William Carey International University, a Christian college in Pasadena, to join him on a pilgrimage to halt the violence. When they refused to go, he went alone. Police say Tope drove his battered 12-year-old car to a shopping center near Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue in Hollywood and started passing out religious pamphlets.
When looters broke into a drugstore, Tope confronted Ortiz, told him to repent and warned him that he would go to hell if he continued looting, according to court records that include statements by witnesses and police. The statements indicate that Ortiz threatened and punched Tope, who left hurriedly for his car.
Sosa, who was watching from a distance, joined his friend, Ortiz, and the two men chased Tope, beating and kicking him for several minutes, according to the statements.
"This wasn't some hit-and-run type thing," said Los Angeles Police Detective Ernie Basset, who investigated the attack. "They really thumped on this guy for awhile." A bystander flagged down an ambulance. The attendants said Tope immediately began proselytizing, telling them they would find their salvation in Jesus. "God bless you," he said softly on the way to the hospital before lapsing into the coma from which he never recovered.
"I know one thing," Tope's brother, Dennis, said later. "If anyone makes it to heaven, it will be my brother."
Sosa and Ortiz, both of whom wbrked as warehouse workers for a concessionaire at Dodger Stadium, were arrested a few weeks later after co-workers heard them bragging about the beating, police said. The two defendants have been held since their arrests on bail of $750,000 apiece. Marvin L. Part and Harvey E. Byron, attorneys for Sosa and Ortiz, have argued that the defendants did not plan the attack and did not intend to injure Tope so severely.
"They are two working guys who never had been in trouble with the law before . . . who were involved in actions that are still not entirely clear ... who had a momentary lapse of rationality," Part said. "They feel terrible about what happened."
A memorial service for Tope is scheduled for Dec. 10 at William Carey University.