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Actor Offers a Change of Scene to Fire Victims

GOOD TURNS

John Amos provides a family left homeless with a visit to a TV taping -- plus money, food and moral support.

November 30, 2003|Michael Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Just days after losing almost all his possessions in the Grand Prix fire, Dan Knight had perhaps the most bizarre experience of his life. He was riding in a Lincoln Town Car limousine to the taping of a television show.

"It was unbelievably strange," said Knight, 50, a carpenter left homeless when the wind-driven blaze destroyed his Etiwanda home in the early morning hours of Oct. 24. "We had lost everything, and here we were in a limo heading to a television show."

Knight, fiancee Tracy Barker and her son Joshua, 17, were guests of actor John Amos, who had heard of their plight and became their guardian angel.

Amos is the founder of the nonprofit Halley's Comet Foundation, which is committed to making a positive impact on at-risk youth. But the organization is not limited to helping young people.

When Amos and his assistant, Belinda Foster, heard of the fires, they felt compelled to help.

On Oct. 25, they called Mary Voss at the Community Service Department in Rancho Cucamonga and asked what they could do. "They wanted to help in any way they could," Voss said.

Minutes later, she received a call from Knight.

He told her how, after spending the previous two days clearing anything combustible away from his home, he passed out at 4 a.m. on his couch.

When he woke up 30 minutes later, he said, "everything around us was ablaze."

In his rush to wake his fiancee and her son, he said, he forgot not only his truck keys, but also his shoes.

Afterward they watched as their three-bedroom home of eight years burned to the ground.

"We were in shock," Knight said. "We were amazed, and helpless. We couldn't do anything, so we just watched everything go up in flames. We didn't say a word to each other."

As Voss listened to Knight's story, she was thinking of Amos and Foster.

She called Foster, who relayed the information to Amos.

"I told Belinda we have to do something for that family," said Amos, 63, who has appeared in movies and on television and currently has a recurring role on the TV drama "The West Wing." "They lost everything. I think [Knight] didn't even get to save his shoes."

So Amos and Foster set out to help. Thinking the fire victims could use a complete change of scene, Amos invited them to the taping of "All About the Andersons," a WB network sitcom in which he is featured.

He gave them $500 for food and gas. He sent them clothes. And he let them know they were not going through the worst period of their lives alone.

"You know, I'm in a business where you have people complaining about the size of their trailers, complaining about the quality of the caviar," said Amos, a former social worker in New York and New Jersey.

The fire victims' "situation should be a wake-up call to everybody who complains about the mundane," he said. "Here are people who lost it all except their lives. I'm not out to save the world, but if I can help this one family, I will certainly try my best."

Amos and Foster have continued to call Knight to see how they can help.

"They ask what I need, but it's hard to say we need something," Knight said. "My pride, you know."

Knight -- who, along with Barker and Joshua, is now staying in a trailer in a friend's yard -- said he regrets not having homeowner's insurance.

"It was just plain dumb, but I thought I could save some money by not getting insurance," he said. "We had been through fires before and came out all right."

Voss said she saw countless acts of kindness during the fires, but that what Amos has done for Knight and Barker is unusual.

"We've had people do a lot of things for strangers, but to go to the extent that John and Belinda have has really been incredible," Voss said.

"It has been an extremely rewarding relationship ... to know we put them together," she said. "It makes my job worthwhile."

And it has made life for Knight, Barker and her son a bit easier.

"John plays a lot of tough, macho roles, but he's not like that at all," Knight said.

"He's really a compassionate, caring person. He's been a lifesaver."

Even though he has been a fan of Amos' for years, Knight said he had a little anxiety about going to the TV show taping.

"I was leery at first, but they made us feel at home, and we got to forget our problems for a while," he said.

"It got us to laugh, and it felt real good. Something like this fire happens, and you kind of forget how to laugh."

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