SAN DIEGO — Survivors of the 1984 massacre at a McDonald's restaurant received a Christmas Eve gift Tuesday when a Superior Court judge cleared the way for distribution of $500,000 from a fund established to help the victims.
Within hours after Judge Mack P. Lovett removed a restraining order that had prevented distribution, survivors and family members of some of the 21 people killed on July 18, 1984, began picking up their checks at Casa Familiar, a community service and counseling organization in the border community of San Ysidro, where the killings occurred.
While officials of the San Ysidro Family Survivors Fund refused to specify how much each survivor would receive, interviews with people who obtained checks indicated the allocations ranged from about $3,000 to nearly $50,000.
The survivors fund was created two days after James Oliver Huberty went "hunting humans" in a murderous 75-minute spree at the fast-food restaurant that also left 15 people wounded. Huberty, 35, a San Ysidro resident, was killed by a police sharpshooter.
McDonald's Corp., which eventually closed and demolished the restaurant, donated $1 million to the fund. Joan Kroc, widow of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's restaurants, contributed $100,000 and the balance came from more than 4,000 companies and individuals. The fund received a total of about $1.5 million.
In all, fund officials identified 87 people who had rights to the money. Although the exact guidelines by which the money will be distributed have not been disclosed, people will be paid on the basis of the severity and extent of their injuries, the impact the shootings had on a family's income and ongoing medical needs, according to Guillermo Marrero, a San Diego attorney who represents the fund.
One of those receiving a check Tuesday was Maria Padilla, whose 18-year-old daughter Margarita worked at McDonald's and was killed. Padilla, who has five other children and whose husband is unemployed because of a heart problem, said she will invest the $9,000 she received in her family's fruit-stand business.
"It's also (for food) to eat," Padilla said.
Flowers for Grave, Shrine
Another person who received a check Tuesday was Olga Wright, 48, whose pregnant daughter, Jackie, and 8-month-old grandson, Carlos, were also killed by Huberty's bullets. Wright's 13-year-old granddaughter, Aurora Pena, who had accompanied Jackie to the restaurant, was shot eight times and is still undergoing rehabilitative therapy on her leg.
Wright said the family plans to use part of its $3,000 check to buy flowers to place on Jackie's grave and at a small shrine at the site of the shootings. The rest will be put in the bank, she said.
Marrero said about $428,000 was given out initially to pay for funerals, medical expenses, housing, clothing, repairing cars hit by bullets. "You name it and we paid it," he said. But then things got a bit rocky.
First, the Internal Revenue Service challenged the fund's tax-exempt status. The board of the fund then held up distributions until the IRS granted the exemption last August, following a wording change in the fund's tax-exempt application. Then the board prepared a complete distribution of the money.
Last week, Judge Lovett put the fund on hold again when he issued a restraining order at the request of David Korrey, an attorney representing 25 victims of the massacre. Korrey wanted the survivors' fund to retain some of its assets to pay the victims' future medical costs.
"We wanted to make sure the medical needs of my clients have been taken into account," Korrey said in an interview. "Almost all the critical medical care needs have been paid for. It's the other things, like reconstructive surgery . . . caused by bullets and pellet fragments, and retinal eye problems."
Korrey said that seven of his clients still need medical help, while others "have psychological needs." The settlement, in which Korrey agreed to drop his case, was reached after Korrey said he was satisfied that the allocation criteria offered his clients adequate compensation. The board has declined to make the specific criteria public.
There is still about $600,000 left in the survivors' fund. This money is intended for minors and will be paid out by the end of January, Marrero said. Another court hearing, however, will be necessary to set up guardianships. The plan is to give the minors 20% of their money now, with the remaining 80% placed in a trust fund that will grow "10 times larger" by the time the minors reach 18 and can collect it, the attorney explained.
Times staff writer Mirna Alfonso contributed to this report.