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Hijackers' Saga: Dad Slain, Son Arrested

Crime: The Lithuanian pair had escaped the Soviet Union 32 years ago by commandeering a jetliner and eventually settled in Santa Monica.

February 09, 2002|ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 46-year-old Santa Monica man was charged Friday with murdering his father, 32 years after the two of them seized a Soviet jetliner in a hijacking that mushroomed into an international imbroglio.

Prosecutors say Albert Victor White, formerly known as Algirdas Brazinskas, bludgeoned his 77-year-old father, Pranas Brazinskas, to death in their two-bedroom apartment in the 900 block of 21st Street on Jan. 5.

No details were given about a possible motive for the crime.

White was being held in lieu of $1-million bail Friday. His arraignment is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday in Santa Monica Superior Court.

Officials say the father and then-13-year-old son, both Lithuanians, hijacked an Aeroflot jetliner over the Soviet Union in 1970.

Pranas Brazinskas said in an interview a decade later that he and his son seized the plane using "rusty old guns" that they had smuggled aboard. He said they hijacked the jet because he faced death as a member of a Lithuanian resistance movement.

The father said two armed Soviet guards aboard the plane opened fire during the hijacking. In the ensuing battle, he said, a female flight attendant was killed and both the pilot and co-pilot were wounded.

Despite their wounds, the cockpit crew was able to follow the hijackers' orders and land the plane in Turkey. There, the father and son were arrested, convicted of murder and sentenced to prison--the father for eight years and the son for two.

In 1974, the two were released under a general amnesty but placed under house arrest. Two years later, the pair escaped from house arrest, but they surrendered to Turkish police after contacting the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and seeking political asylum, which was denied.

In a series of angry exchanges, the Soviet Union asked that the pair be extradited, but the Turkish government denied the request.

Released two weeks later, the father and son made their way to Venezuela. There they flew to Canada. They vanished after getting off the plane during a stopover in New York, but were arrested a few weeks later by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Immigration Judge Robert T. Griffin ruled that the father and son should be allowed to reapply for asylum under the liberalized 1980 Refugee Act. The INS appealed the ruling, arguing that the two should be deported.

The INS appeal angered this country's Lithuanian community, including Simas Kudirka, who was caught in an international tug-of-war after he jumped from a Soviet trawler to a U.S. Coast Guard boat in 1970. U.S. officials handed Kudirka back to the Soviets and he spent four years in prison before it was discovered that he was a U.S. citizen and allowed to return to this country.

Although political asylum was never granted to them, Pranas Brazinskas and his son were allowed to remain in the U.S. They moved to Santa Monica, where both worked as house painters.

Neighbors at the Santa Monica apartment complex said Brazinskas had become frail and cranky in recent years. Still, they said White was protective of his father, defending him against harsh stares from neighborhood children.

One neighbor, Laurie Cotten, who is also of Lithuanian descent, said he heard White tell the kids: "My dad is an old man. Please don't make him nervous."

Brazinskas, who was known as "Frank" to neighbors, managed the apartment building for several years and rode a bicycle along the alley behind the buildings for exercise. But a few years ago, Brazinskas grew frail, giving up the bicycle for a walking cane.

Brazinskas' violent history made some in the neighborhood nervous.

"There were times that I was a little afraid of him only because of what I knew about his history," Cotten said.

Regina Oslapas, the head of the Santa Monica chapter of the Lithuanian American Community, a local civic group, said the father and son tried to raise funds for themselves on the basis of their resistance movement and hijacking. But Oslapas said the group did not consider Brazinskas a patriot because of the violence in his past.

Lithuanian national Ema Datis, president of the Los Angeles Drama Group, said the two men were well known and she heard about the father's slaying Thursday at her group's meeting.

"For a while, it was a big deal," Datis said. "They were really well known for a while among the Lithuanians. They would come and speak at our events. Then after a few years, they sort of disappeared."

Datis said Lithuanians differed on whether the men were heroes.

"Many people hold them up high," she said. "But to some their escape was regarded differently. Sure they wanted to be free, but their escape cost a girl's life."

*

Times staff writers Liz F. Kay, Zanto Peabody and Jennifer Kelleher contributed to this report.

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