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Hit-Run Death of 5-Year-Old Stuns Westlake : Crime: Armando Davila let himself out of the house to buy ice cream. A car ran him down. 'It all happened so fast,' says his grieving father.

August 07, 1994|LESLIE BERESTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Playing alone in his parents' small living room in Westlake on a warm Saturday afternoon two weekends ago, 5-year-old Armando Davila heard the tinkling music that signaled the approach of the neighborhood ice cream truck.

His mother was busy bathing his younger sister in the bathroom, and without her noticing, Armando managed to unlock the front door of the first-floor apartment and slip out through the worn hallway of the Westlake Avenue building and onto the street. Neighbors say that at about 2:30 p.m., Armando crossed the street near 11th Place, approached the ice cream truck and purchased a treat. At the same time, they saw a yellow car--possibly a cab--approaching southbound on Westlake Avenue. As Armando began crossing the street to return home, the neighbors assumed the vehicle would stop.

It didn't.

In front of stunned onlookers, the car plowed into Armando, running him over. The driver sped off, leaving the boy in the street. Soon after, an ambulance transported him to California Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

As Jorge and Maria Davila prepared to leave for Maria's hometown of Durango, Mexico, to bury their son with borrowed money, they struggled to accustom themselves to the fact that Armando is gone from their lives.

"It all happened so fast, all in a matter of two or three minutes," said Jorge Davila, his voice wavering, as relatives helped the couple pack. His wife, he said, was so grief-stricken that she refused to eat.

Maria Davila was drying off her 2-year-old daughter, Yesenia, when a group of neighbors rushed to the door to tell her that Armando had been struck down.

"She didn't want to believe it," said her husband, who was at work in the kitchens of United Airlines when the accident occurred. "She thought, 'But my son is in the house, playing.' It was then that she realized he had unlocked the door and gotten out. It happened so fast."

The day Armando died, Davila noted sadly, was the first time the boy had ever ventured outside alone. Fiercely protective of their children, the Davilas kept close watch over both youngsters, never allowing them outside unaccompanied. They even tried to counter the lure of the ice cream vendor by keeping boxes of Popsicles in the freezer for their children.

"I took good care of my son," said Davila, a native of Guatemala who has lived in the United States for 13 years. "When he wanted to play outside, I would take him to the park. He was a very well-educated, well-behaved boy."

Central Traffic Division detectives released a composite drawing of the man seen driving the car. He is described as Latino, 35 to 40 years old, 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-8, 150 to 160 pounds, with dark hair and a mustache.

He was carrying two passengers, a man and a woman, but detailed descriptions were not available, other than that they were believed to be Latinos.

*

The vehicle is described as a yellow, four-door 1980s-model Chevrolet Nova or Caprice, with chrome spotlights and a glass partition behind the drivers' seat with metal mesh in the center. Police suspect the car is a "bandit" taxicab, one of a large fleet of unmarked, unlicensed cabs operating illegally in Downtown and surrounding areas.

Capt. Rich Wimmer, commanding officer of Los Angeles Police Department's Central Traffic Division, said Armando was the seventh minor to die in a traffic accident near an ice cream truck in Los Angeles since 1982. Police and city officials said such tragedies are often connected to unsafe traffic conditions, such as those that plague the Westlake area.

The most recent tragedy was May 22 in Pacoima, when 7-year-old Skyy Nelson was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver as he ran toward a vendor. The driver of that car, like the driver who ran over Armando, is still at large.

"The problem we have here is that cars are driving in and out of there at high speeds. That child got run over in front of his house because of the activity in that area," said City Councilman Mike Hernandez, who represents the area. "That cab would have run over someone eventually."

The council passed a motion by Hernandez offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest or arrests in Armando's case, and Hernandez is soliciting donations to help the Davilas with burial costs.

Another fatal hit-and-run accident took place in Westlake on May 18, when 7-year-old Kimberly Lopez died after she and her 11-year-old brother were struck on the sidewalk by a vehicle at 7th Street and Union Avenue. There have been no arrests, police said.

Anyone with information about the accident in which Armando Davila was killed may contact Detective Sonia Cabrera of the Central Traffic Division at (213) 485-3111.

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