By Tony Barboza and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/eAA9AK
Students and parents cross the intersection of Firestone Boulevard and Hooper Avenue, where a substitute guard filled in for Shirley Mayberry, who was injured on the job Monday afternoon. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times / November 30, 2010)
December 1, 2010 - What sort of person would pick on the crossing guard?
That's what parents outside Russell Elementary School wanted to know after a crossing guard was beaten to the ground and robbed of her stop sign and whistle as she prepared to guide pedestrians across a busy street and as two dozen people looked on.
Those who know Shirley Mayberry, the 59-year-old crossing guard who works the busy intersection in the Florence-Firestone area, said she is a comforting woman who always says "hello" and "good morning" as she looks after the crowds of pedestrians, strollers and shopping-cart pushers, shielding them from impatient drivers trying to squeeze through the crosswalk.
"I always feel safer when she helps me cross," said Erika Hernandez, 28, who walks her first-grader son across the intersection to and from school every day. "Why would anyone do this?"
When a driver in a black Ford Expedition tried to make a right turn onto Firestone Boulevard from northbound Hooper Avenue about 2 p.m. Monday, the crossing guard raised her stop sign high in the air and said, "You have to stop. The children come first," witnesses told Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators.
Investigators said the driver, Jose Hernandez, 27, yelled that he would not stop, and his passenger, Vanessa Del Pilar Martinez, 20, got out of the vehicle and punched the guard, knocking the woman to the ground.
Hernandez then took the woman's whistle and stop sign before driving off, investigators said.
Mayberry was not seriously injured in the attack.
Sheriff's deputies arrested the suspects after using the vehicle's license plate number to trace them to their home in the Green Meadows area of the city, where they said they recovered the victim's stop sign.
Hernandez and Martinez face robbery charges and are being held on $50,000 bail.
On Tuesday, deputies expanded their presence near the school and a substitute guard stood sentry at the intersection where the attack took place.
Russell Elementary Principal John Sayers sent students home with a letter Tuesday, reassuring parents that it was safe to cross the street after what he called a "heartbreaking incident."
Charles Coleman, 50, who guards a busy intersection nearby, said peeved drivers occasionally honk, yell, shake their fists or make other rude gestures when he prevents them from turning. But he said he always tries to match their anger with courtesy.
"If they see you blow the whistle and the sign, most people will obey," he said. "But every once in a while people are mad, and they take it out at the closest thing to them."