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Customs Agent Shoots, Kills Suspect in Attempted Rape

December 20, 1987

A U.S. Customs Service agent shot and killed a man suspected of attempting to rape a woman Saturday in San Diego when the man tried to drive off with the agent dangling from a car door, police said.

John Pellegrino, 25, a Navy petty officer 3rd class, died of gunshot wounds, officials said.

The episode unfolded about 6:30 a.m., when two Customs agents, who were not identified, saw a car screech into a parking lot in the 900 block of West Market Street, according to Bill Robinson, a spokesman for the San Diego Police Department.

As the agents watched, a man in the car began striking a female passenger and then pushed her down on the seat, Robinson said. When the woman began to scream, the agents rushed to the car, identified themselves and ordered the man, identified as Pellegrino, out.

The woman said Pellegrino was trying to rape her, Robinson said. One of the agents pulled Pellegrino from the car, but the Navy petty officer struck him and leaped back into the car, Robinson said.

Robinson said a struggle began as the agent opened the door again and Pellegrino stepped on the accelerator, backing the car around the parking lot at high speed as the Customs agent held on.

Wedged into the corner of the open door, the agent grabbed his handgun and fired it three times at Pellegrino, striking him in the upper body area, Robinson said.

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