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The Fight Against Crime Notes : Attack Sours His Dream of a Safe Haven

May 05, 1993|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To escape the sectarian violence of his native India, Amolak Saini came to America last year. Unfortunately, he got a job as the all-night clerk in a convenience store.

At about 1:40 a.m. on April 25, three men entered the West Hills 7-Eleven where Saini worked.

"They looked like any other customers," said the soft-spoken Saini, 27, lying in his bed at West Valley Hospital two days later. "There was no warning."

One of the men approached the counter. Saini said he had time only to say, "Hello."

The man jumped the counter and began stabbing Saini repeatedly with a knife. The other two began to loot the store. Saini managed to stumble out the door into the parking lot, but his attacker followed, repeatedly stabbing him in the abdomen and back, and beating him as he fell to the ground.

Saini was stabbed more than 20 times. One of the knife thrusts pierced his stomach.

"If they would have asked," he said, "I would have given them the beers, the money. No problem. It is the policy.

"They just stab me."

Saini told his story with no rancor, no bitterness, no righteous indignation.

"He is always calm, always nice," said his sister, Harpeet Saini, visiting her brother in the hospital. "Why does this happen to him?"

Amolak Saini had a philosophical answer.

"I hear about all the crime in Los Angeles, but nothing before ever happen to my brothers or my sisters, here," he said with a lilting accent. "This is just an incident. These men did not attack me as a person.

"I was just there."

It's not fair, of course, that anyone is victimized by a crime. Indeed, Saini could be viewed as fortunate--few of his wounds were life-threatening and his doctors say he is likely to recover fully.

But given that Saini left his own country to come to what is still regarded, in some parts of the world, as the promised land, the crime is particularly heinous.

Saini is a Sikh and although never physically attacked in his native country because of his religion, he often felt threatened and oppressed. In July he joined his two sisters and two brothers already living in Canoga Park. He applied for political asylum and a work authorization from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

His INS papers were approved on March 25. The next day he got the job in the 7-Eleven.

"The owner tell me it is policy if someone wants to take something, we do not fight them," Saini said. On at least two occasions, he saw people taking packs of beer without paying.

But the men who robbed the store on April 25 never gave Saini the option of keeping out of harms way. All they got, police say, was a small amount of money, packs of beer and cigarettes.

When they finally sped away. Saini struggled to his feet. "I thought, 'if I do not stand up, I will die right here,' " he said.

A man in the parking lot at a nearby Taco Bell saw him and rushed over. He put Saini in his car and drove him to the hospital. "He saved my life," said Saini.

Saini underwent emergency surgery for the stomach wound. Otherwise, he was in amazingly good shape. "They say I recover in two, three months," he said with a smile.

Police believe there were more men involved in the robbery than Saini saw. Working on a tip, they have arrested four young men--two from Simi Valley and two from Chatsworth--and are searching for a fifth suspect.

The police do not believe the men had racial or religious motives. They were charged with attempted murder and robbery and are being held in lieu of $500,000 bail.

In the meantime, Saini is making plans, which include going back to work in the convenience store. It is almost as if he sees the attack as an inconsequential, if painful, interruption in his life.

But it has changed his outlook in at least one way.

"No more night shift," Saini said. "I want to work in the day."

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