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Ventura County

Beating Victim Eulogized

Memorial: Surfers are among the mourners for a homeless man killed in river bottom.

July 15, 2001|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Family members, surfers and the homeless people who knew him best packed a Main Street chapel Saturday to remember James Richard Clark, the 58-year-old Army veteran beaten to death last month as he slept in the Ventura River bottom.

"My granddad used to say a measure of a man's success is how many people come to your funeral," said Keith Akins, a Ventura resident who had come to know Clark over the past decade while riding the waves at Surfers Point. "James was a success."

More than 75 people crowded into the small chapel at the Joseph P. Reardon Funeral Home for a brief memorial service. Afterward, a group of surfers held a tribute that drew a large crowd near the water's edge at Surfers Point.

Clark, who had become increasingly frail after getting hit by a car two years ago, was beaten to death in his sleeping bag June 29 near the mouth of the Ventura River.

Robert Allen Upton, who also uses the name Coffman, Timothy John Becker and Christopher Michael Dunham, all 18, have been charged with murder and robbery in Clark's death. All three, who are eligible for the death penalty, are scheduled to be arraigned July 24.

The district attorney's office has also charged Rocky Mattley, 14, with murder in connection with Clark's death. Prosecutors will ask a Juvenile Court judge to charge Mattley as an adult when he is arraigned Aug. 1.

Clark, a former sheet-metal worker, had lived in the Ventura River bottom for nearly two decades and was a popular figure along Main Street and the beachfront.

The crime shocked and frightened many in the city's homeless community. News of his death also jolted Main Street business owners and Avenue firefighters who had all known Clark as an affable man who never caused trouble.

Surfers who knew Clark for his quirky sense of humor and warm smile often brought him food, spare change and an occasional bottle of liquor on their regular trips to the beach.

Saturday morning many of them arrived at the chapel to greet Clark's relatives and hear a eulogy by Monsignor Patrick J. O'Brien of Mission San Buenaventura. Friends stood before the gathering and told stories about Clark.

"I knew James to be a man of peace," one man said. "When I heard what happened to him I was horrified."

Clark's family, including his sister, Marian Serpico of New York, sat in the front pew. An American flag awarded to Clark for his military service was folded on a wooden table at the front of the chapel.

Flowers, many purchased with proceeds from a last-minute donation drive, surrounded the table. An urn containing Clark's ashes rested on the table next to two photographs of him: one recent, the other of Clark, in his 20s, sporting a black leather jacket and shiny pompadour.

Later at Surfers Point, Clark's relatives, along with several surfers and homeless men and women, tossed red roses and carnations into the waves. About 200 yards beyond the breakers, Akins and 20 other surfers formed a circle, clasped hands and said a prayer in Clark's name.

People arriving at the beach who had not heard of Clark's death expressed shock at the news and joined in the tribute.

"I wanted to be with people who were suffering," Ventura resident Carol Rosin said. "There are so many evil people in the world."

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