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Family Responds to Tragedy of Murder : Foundation Links Victims' Groups

June 06, 1985|NANCY GRAHAM | Times Staff Writer

Cheryl Fields was dying, paralyzed by a bullet fired into her neck during a robbery. As her grieving family kept a bedside vigil at Brotman Medical Center, actress Theresa Saldana paid them a visit that would change their lives. Saldana, recovering from knife wounds inflicted by a demented fan, came to comfort the Fields family and encourage them to seek help from the group she had started, Victims for Victims.

Because of the counseling and support they received from Victims for Victims, the family formed the Cheryl Fields Foundation to provide victims with updated information about services, including psychological, legal and financial assistance and shelter.

Killers Never Caught

Cheryl's killers, a man and a woman, were never caught. Today, more than two years after Cheryl's death, her family still keeps in touch with Los Angeles Police Detective John Vanderwall, the investigator. Vanderwall said the case will not be closed until the killers have been arrested and convicted.

Looking back on those grim days of January, 1983, one of Cheryl's sisters, Vicky Wolf, said, "We realized that until the shooting, we didn't even know about Victims for Victims."

Gradually the family became aware of many other organizations for victims, such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).

"I kept thinking, there has got to be a way to link all the different services, for people who don't know about them," Wolf said.

Another sister, Laura Fields, then 21, was with Cheryl when she was shot. She said, "We started getting the immediate family together. Everybody said, 'We're committed to this (victims' group).' We couldn't let it just happen to Cheryl and end it there. We did it to carry on her name especially."

The first meeting of the Cheryl Fields Foundation was held in July, 1984. Working out of their San Fernando Valley home, Vicky and her husband, Douglas, have built the membership to about 200, plus about 25 active teen-agers. Members have been drawn from Palm Springs, Camarillo, San Diego, Orange County and Northern California.

Laura, the Wolfs and their parents, David and Anne Fields, have invested countless hours in research, telephoning, speechmaking and fund raising. The effort has been exhausting for the family, but they say they have found that the hard work has helped them cope with Cheryl's death.

In talking about the foundation, they inevitably talk about Cheryl.

Laura Fields recalled the day Cheryl was shot, how the two of them were laughing and talking as they took out the trash from Cheryl's Palms apartment. Their next conversation took place in an ambulance en route to Brotman Medical Center. Laura was bruised and scraped from being thrown onto glass and other debris in the alley where her necklace was ripped from her. Cheryl, a bullet in her neck, was fighting for her life.

'Something Seemed Wrong'

"We both said that we felt something was wrong as soon as we saw the two strangers in the alley, a man and a woman. We had been taking the trash out before we went over to our parents' apartment a few blocks away, but when we saw these two people, something seemed wrong. We started to run back to the apartment. I was knocked down and my instincts told me to just lie there. It saved my life. The woman ran after Cheryl and shot her.

"When I was in the ambulance with her, she had all her mail with her. She was telling me, 'Don't forget to make deposits at the bank for me.' "

Vicky Wolf recalled, "After Cheryl got to the hospital, she kept wanting to know 'Is Laura OK?' Cheryl was our big sister, especially for Laura because Laura is the baby of the family."

Cheryl was paralyzed by the bullet. She had to breathe through a respirator, which made it impossible for her to talk most of the time, Vicky said.

"Cheryl was totally conscious all the time," Vicky recalled. "She barely slept. She was totally helpless. She couldn't even ring for the nurse. She had a lot she wanted to say. She had her mind going for 26 days of terror.

Grieving Father

"We have gotten where we can talk about Cheryl, not like she was a saint. There were good things and bad things."

Their father's grief was so great, the sisters said, that he initially objected to formation of the Cheryl Fields Foundation.

"Cheryl was my father's favorite," Vicky said. "He just didn't want us to do it at first. He said, 'I just don't want her name all around.' Now he's stuffing envelopes, he's at every shopping mall (with information about the foundation), and he's designing a logo for the foundation."

Although she has two small children, Vicky Wolf spends hours each day on the telephone, checking out organizations to see what services they offer, whether they are still active and if they actually do help people. Douglas Wolf, president of the foundation, has a full schedule of speechmaking before clubs and church and school groups. Cheryl's mother is financial officer. "She runs errands, is chief cook and bottle washer," Vicky said.

On Saturday the foundation will hold a "Bowling Bash," with unlimited bowling, buffet, live entertainment and dancing, at Bay Shore Bowl, 234 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Tickets are available at $25 for adults and $15 for students by writing to Cheryl Fields Foundation for Victims, 8511 W. Venice Blvd., No. 202, Los Angeles 90034, or by calling (818) 888-5528.

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