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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Customers Mourn Slain Restaurateur and His Wife

November 25, 2000

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — A steady stream of regular diners stopped by Sabatino's Italian Restaurant and Bakery on Friday afternoon, though they knew the eatery would serve none of its much-loved comfort food.

They came to line the front of the casual neighborhood restaurant with flowers and candles in memory of its owner, Sabato "Sabby" Russo, and his wife, Eugenia, both 73, who were slain Wednesday in their home a few blocks away.

Doran Cates, 50, a former football coach at Valley College, remembered the at-cost feasts the Russo family would provide the team twice a week during football season. He called the Russos "the best sponsors the football program ever had."

Rhonda Munoz, 40, of Pacoima, drove up in her minivan to see if what she had read in the news was really true.

"Oh, God--Sabby just filled the whole house with happiness," said Munoz, a weekly customer. "He was just real sweet. He'd come to your table and sit with you while you ate. It's a great loss."

The family--daughter Rosanna Tolino and her husband, Antonio, as well as Sabby's brother, Antonio Russo--plans to carry on the family tradition, but were busy making funeral arrangements and picking up relatives from Russo's native Italy, said longtime chef Juan Jimenez.

Jimenez said the restaurant would eventually reopen. "[Sabby] always told me if anything happens, you keep it open," he said.

Police have arrested a 22-year-old Sylmar man, Israel Cabrera, in connection with the slaying. Cabrera was part of a three-man work crew who installed a new wooden floor at the Russos' house recently, authorities said. Officials say he came back alone Wednesday morning to commit the crime.

A number of the Russos' personal effects were found in Cabrera's home, as well as knives believed to be the murder weapons, police said.

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