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Calls of Sympathy Pour In After Bag Lady Attacked

September 05, 1985|KATHLEEN H. COOLEY | Times Staff Writer

She made her daily rounds at the beach, collecting aluminum cans and old newspapers in her shopping cart. She dressed in layers of clothes and a scarf over her hair, and her territory was Mission Boulevard and Garnet Avenue.

To hundreds of Pacific Beach residents, she was known only as "Joanne the Bag Lady."

So when the news broke earlier this week that a street woman lay unconscious at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla after being brutally beaten in a public restroom in Pacific Beach, authorities were flooded with calls from beach residents asking whether the victim was the familiar figure.

Apparently she is, San Diego police say. They have tentatively identified the victim as Sara J. Ruthledge, who celebrated her 55th birthday in serious but stable condition Wednesday.

Ruthledge sustained cuts on her face and bone fractures after she was attacked Sunday morning in a public restroom in the 700 block of Pacific Beach Drive, said police spokesman Bill Robinson. Arrested in connection with the beating was Jose Herrera, 26, an illegal alien who has been booked into County Jail.

Calls of sympathy poured into the offices of the Pacific Beach Town Council, said Margaret Cooper, a council member.

"Most of them felt very, very sad," she said of the sympathy shown for the woman who had often been seen cooking over an open fire on the beach. "She was just a loner . . . a defenseless street bag lady."

The hospital also received "numerous" calls from people concerned about the victim's well-being, said Diane Yohe, communications coordinator at Scripps Memorial.

"The nurses say that she is responding to the name Joanne, and we've had calls from the public who think they know her name, but we really don't know," Yohe said.

Joanne the Bag Lady frequented the Food Basket grocery store on Mission Boulevard, where she used pennies earned from collecting cans to purchase vinegar and peppermint candy.

"I think she thought the vinegar protected her from the sun," said Joanne Long, a checker at the store. "She is always so considerate. She always paid with exact change, right down to the penny."

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