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Family and Neighbors Mourn Boy

Tragedy: The 11-year-old, who had a heart murmur, died after a neighborhood incident on his scooter. Police are investigating.

November 15, 2000|JOE MOZINGO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard Cruz was as protective as he could have been Monday of his 11-year-old son.

He made him do his math homework when he got home from school. He served up beef ravioli. They tossed the football around. Then, as Richard Jr. went off to play with friends down the street, the boy handed off the football and said, "Here, Daddy."

Those were the last words he would say to his father.

Sometime after 4 p.m., his dad waved him back inside and saw his son's lanky figure cutting home under the trees, happily pumping away on his new scooter.

But as Cruz stepped inside, something happened. Richard Jr. was apparently hit or shoved by some children on his Compton street. The fourth-grader, who had a heart murmur, collapsed and lay unconscious in his sweatsuit on a neighbor's lawn, witnesses said.

He was never revived.

"I was just that much off," Cruz said Tuesday as he and family members waited for an autopsy to determine the cause of death. "That boy could not have hit my baby if I was out there. I don't even yell at him loud, nothing to upset my boy."

The lumbering truck driver sank in his couch and sobbed uncontrollably as he recounted events. His family made occasional strolls along the quiet, middle-class street to gaze at the spot where the boy had fallen.

Sheriff's detectives canvassed the neighborhood along South Castlegate Street to find out what had happened. It will not be clear if a crime occurred until the coroner conducts an autopsy, said Sgt. Bill Marsh. That may take several days, a coroner's spokesman said.

Richard Jr. had just gotten off a week's grounding and was excited to use his scooter Monday. It was one of the few physical activities his parents allowed him to do; throughout his life, they had been warned that any trauma or heavy exercise could set off his heart condition. Although the boy could throw a football, he wasn't allowed to play the game.

His father said he is certain that a youngster down the street caused the trauma Monday.

Cruz had been inside only a few minutes when the incident happened, he said. When he realized Richard Jr. should have already walked in the door, the father stepped outside again to see why the boy was delayed. He spotted his son on the lawn and ran down the street where two children were standing over his limp body, he said.

"I said, 'Who hit my baby?' " he recalled. One of the boys pointed to the other, he said. "Whatever happened, it had scared my boy so bad he went into shock.

"I tried to get him to say something to me, little Rich, and he wouldn't say anything. [Playing football], those were the last words I'll ever here from my son."

Cruz said he slung his boy over his shoulder and grabbed the scooter and ran back to his house in a panic. Neighbors tried CPR and someone called 911, although one resident said that, in the chaos, it took at least 10 minutes to make the emergency call. Richard Jr. was pronounced dead later at a hospital.

His mother was too distraught to talk Tuesday as family members gathered at their small home to mourn. Richard's 13-year-old cousin and best friend, James Mickens III, cried all night. The pair were inseparable. When James got a new scooter this spring, Richard wanted one as well. This October, for his birthday, Richard's mother found a $49.95 silver scooter at a swap meet. The two cousins had zipped around on the thing ever since.

"He didn't care if he couldn't play [sports]," James said. "He'd just throw the ball. And he went to my football and basketball games."

James' mother, Judy Mickens, said: "He was just a really good kid, even better than mine."

At Kelly Elementary School just down the street, Richard was seen by teachers as a leader and a good student who took responsibility for his actions.

On Tuesday, the school's marquee read: "We love you Richard, you will always be in our hearts."

"He was a well-known and well-liked kid," said Principal Ronald Stamper. "It's just such a tragedy."

Officials plan to schedule a tree-planting in memory of Richard in the next week.

Richard's teacher, Peter Stein, smiled at the thought of the boy and his enthusiasm. Last Saturday, the teacher took his class to the UCLA-Stanford football game. "He's been talking about it ever since. He bought this UCLA visor and a button that said 'I'm going to college.' "

Richard's family was still too angry Tuesday to be warmed by memories of him.

"If those kids knew my boy, they wouldn't have hit him," Cruz said, "unless they were the devil himself."

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