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First Things First : The New Year Renews the Cycle of Births, Deaths and All-Too-Many Media Events


The cycles of life and death turned anew in Los Angeles County on Tuesday with the birth of the first baby of the new year, a boy, at 12:02 a.m., and the stabbing death, barely 13 minutes later, of a man in Pacoima, the first slaying of 1991.

Later on New Year's Day, there were other countywide firsts. Shortly after 7 a.m., two South Korean brothers arrived on an overnight flight from Seoul--the first immigrants admitted to enter the United States at Los Angeles International Airport, according to officials of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Sae Jung Yi, 26, and Hyun Jung Yi, 32, adjusted their rumpled sport coats and stepped off Korean Air Flight 2 into the Southern California sunshine, becoming the first of thousands who will pass this year through the West Coast's modern version of Ellis Island.

"This is a good city . . . beautiful and wonderful," Sae Jung said as he rested from the long journey at his parents' Koreatown home. He said he hopes to pursue a career as an electrical engineer.

In another part of the county, Quyang Vhengli, a 30-year-old resident of San Gabriel, spoke of the dreams she holds for her newborn boy, Jeremy Lee, the first of the estimated 160,000 babies who will be born in the county this year.

A native of Canton province in southern China, Quyang wants her son to become a lawyer "so he can help people." Jeremy mad his debut at 6 pounds, 12 ounces, and is the first child born to Quyang and her husband, Paul Lee, 31, owner of a Chinese-language magazine called Car World.

Quyang said she was having trouble coping with all the attention from local television stations and other journalists who descended on her room at Women's Hospital at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

"So many people have come out here," she said. "It's too much. I put him down, I pick him up (for the cameras). But he doesn't seem to care. He's such a good baby. . . . I hope he studies well and succeeds in America."

In a few weeks, Quyang will consult a Hong Kong fortune teller to carry out the custom of giving Jeremy a Chinese-language name.

Early in the new year, death came quickly to two men who simultaneously earned the grim distinction of being the year's first victims of violence--there are about 1,500 murders, manslaughters and other homicides in Los Angeles County each year.

Pedro Gonzales, 28, was celebrating the new year with friends outside his apartment complex on Klingerman Street in El Monte when he began firing his .22-caliber revolver into the moonlit sky, said Gabe Ramirez, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman.

A deputy patrolling the neighborhood heard the gunfire and drove to the apartment complex, confronting Gonzales in the carport of the apartment building at 12:15 a.m., Ramirez said.

The deputy ordered Gonzales to drop the gun, authorities said. Gonzales pointed his weapon at the deputy, who responded by firing five rounds, striking Gonzales several times in the upper body, authorities said. Gonzales was pronounced dead at the scene.

About 25 miles away, Pedro Garcia, 18, received a mortal wound during an argument at a New Year's party in Pacoima. According to witnesses, Garcia was stabbed in the upper body by Salomon Aguilar at a home in the 11800 block of Chadron Avenue, police said.

Garcia was taken to Pacifica Hospital in Sun Valley, where he died one hour later, said Los Angeles Police Officer Keith Green. Aguilar, 32, was still at large, Green said.

There were other, more placid firsts recorded Tuesday: the first--but woefully not the last--media event (a "Psychic and Astrologer's Party" in Canoga Park) and 1991's first day of beach-going weather--it was a temperate 74 degrees in downtown Los Angeles.

Before assembled television crews, the psychics predicted good things for 1991.

"I don't feel there is going to be a war in the Middle East," said Edward Helin, 60. Why the optimism? Simple. "The planet Saturn is going into the sign of Aquarius," Helin said, adding that the astrological alignment is historically a portent of good times.

At Southern California beaches, the new year brought a day of unseasonably warm weather.

"It's a beautiful day," said Lt. Phil Topar, a Los Angeles County lifeguard stationed at Venice Beach, where about 20,000 people flocked to the sand. "For winter, there's a pretty good-sized crowd."

Still, by late Tuesday afternoon, lifeguards had yet to make their first rescue of the new year--a water temperature of 54 degrees kept all but the hardiest swimmers away from the surf, Topar said.

There was no such rest for Los Angeles city firefighters, who responded to calls throughout the day, including a blaze that gutted a commercial building downtown. The year's first call came at 12:01 a.m., a fire on the 200 block of West Santa Cruz Street in San Pedro. Happily, the firefighters discovered the small fire had gone out by itself.

Across Los Angeles, the new year opened with few transportation difficulties, according to the California Highway Patrol.

At Los Angeles International Airport, the year's first commercial flight touched down just three seconds after midnight--American Airlines Flight 435, from Boston and Chicago. At Long Beach Harbor, the Asia Marine was the first ship to dock in the county, arriving from the Argentine port of La Plata at 12:40 a.m.

But for everyone of those who shall be first, there is someone who came last.

Maria Machado Santiago, 24, was in the final stages of labor Monday at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center as the clock ticked toward midnight.

"We told her if she wanted to wait a few seconds she could have the first baby of 1991," said Dr. Eric Sibley, who delivered the baby. "But she said she was in too much pain and she wanted to get it over with."

And so, Machado's baby girl, Nallely, was born in the waning seconds of 1990.

Times staff writers Ashley Dunn and Nieson Himmel and Times staff photographer Hyungwon Kang contributed to this story.

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