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Fingertip bitten off in health rally fracas

September 04, 2009|Ruben Vives

Authorities are searching for a healthcare reform supporter who they said bit off the fingertip of a 65-year-old man during a fight at a MoveOn.org rally in Thousand Oaks.

The incident occurred about 7 p.m. Wednesday at a "We Can't Afford to Wait" vigil organized by affiliates of the activist group MoveOn.org, which drew supporters of President Obama's healthcare plan, said Senior Deputy Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. The rally also attracted several counter-protesters, he said.

During the rally at Lynn Road and Hillcrest Drive, the suspect and William James Rice got into an argument and began fighting. Rice, of Newbury Park, punched the suspect after the man called him an "idiot," Buschow said.

At that point, the suspect bit off part of Rice's left pinkie, Buschow said.

Rice then drove himself to Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center about a mile away, he said. A witness picked up the detached portion of the finger after the suspect spit it out. The witness took the fingertip to the hospital, Buschow said.

A medical center spokeswoman said Rice chose not to have his finger reattached because of the high risk of infection and because the injury was not on his dominant hand.

Rice told deputies he was not actually protesting. He said he stopped to inquire about the demonstration and then was approached by the suspect.

Ilyse Hogue, director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org, called the incident "a regrettable act of violence" in a statement released Thursday morning.

"While we do not have any more facts about what happened than what we saw in press accounts, MoveOn condemns violence in all forms," Hogue said. "We support the Ventura County sheriff's investigation into the situation. It is our firm hope that this event does not detract from the tens of thousands who were out peacefully making their voices heard for healthcare reform and a public option."

Authorities said they were looking for a white male in his late 40s or 50s who was last seen wearing black shorts and a black shirt.

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

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