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Clerk's Slaying Also Kills a Family Dream

The move to Irvine was supposed to end in a better life, not brutal death.

March 04, 2004|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Like so many, Suresh Dass came to the United States with such optimism that even working the graveyard shift at a 7-Eleven seemed like a dream come true.

By his standards, the money was good, his children had better opportunities, and the people in Irvine were friendly.

And he'd saved enough money in recent months to buy a ticket to return to India to visit his elder son.

But during the predawn hours Tuesday, two men walked into the convenience store, pushed him to the ground and stabbed and beat him to death. After wrestling fruitlessly with the cash register, they left empty-handed.

"Four times that day, my heart told him not to go to work," said his wife, Evelyn, 50. "I wanted to spend time with him before he left, but he kept telling me he'd work one more night and for me not to worry."

The father of three had just finished restocking the shelves and mopping the floor about 2:20 a.m. Tuesday when the men strode into the convenience store, tucked in a neighborhood strip mall at Culver Drive and Deerfield Avenue. The store's surveillance camera, which captured the one-minute attack, showed the men stabbing Dass and repeatedly beating him with metal flashlights, police said.

Two security guards parked near the store doing paperwork saw the men flee. One called police and went inside the store, where Dass was bloodied but breathing. The other chased one man to a nearby apartment complex.

Using police dogs, officers said, they found Travis Frazier hiding in bushes at the apartment complex. About 11 hours later, they arrested Spencer Fox at a home in Anaheim.

Frazier, 22, of Tustin, and Fox, 21, of Irvine, are being held at Orange County Jail on suspicion of robbery and homicide. They are scheduled to be arraigned in Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach today.

One man may have been connected with a white supremacist group, but police said that the crime did not appear to be racially motivated.

"It was a crime by hateful people," said Lt. Jeff Love. "There's no factual basis so far to indicate there was any motive except for the desire to rob this individual and being vicious people and attacking him. It was extremely violent."

On Wednesday, customers and friends left bouquets of roses, orchids and amaryllis in front of the store, which is owned by Dass' sister.

"You are my other family," one card read. "In memory of Mr. Dass. You have been appreciated. May God have mercy on you and comfort your family," read another.

Tearful family members gathered at Dass' sparse apartment just two blocks away and mourned the loss of a person they described as a devoted father and husband.

"He was very kindhearted," his wife said.

Dass, 55, had worked at the store since February 2003, when he was sponsored to come to the United States by his sister, Mona Bhatia, the store's owner.

"He didn't want to come over at first because he didn't want to leave his family behind. They're very close," Bhatia said. "But he wanted a good education and a good life for his children."

In July, after immigration officials approved a green card for his family, he returned to India to formally quit his job as an assistant professor and bring back his wife, daughter Shweta, 20, and son Subodh, 21. An older son, Sachin, 24, didn't qualify for a green card because of his age. Family members said he sent his elder son money each month.

Dass was to leave Saturday for Kuruksheta, India, to visit his son. On Monday morning, Dass and his wife went to Mervyn's to buy Sachin several shirts and a gold cross necklace. Dass' two suitcases were ready in his room.

Instead, Sachin was granted an emergency visa to travel to the United States to help with his father's funeral.

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