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Jewish World Review March 31, 2000/ 24 Adar II, 5760

Larry Elder

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Consumer Reports



Tinseltown crowns a 'hero' -- "A LOCAL HERO."

That's how a spokesperson for Los Angeles police described the "heroics" of Willie Fulgear.

Who is Willie Fulgear? Shortly before the recent Academy Awards ceremony, Roadway Express shipped 55 gold-plated Oscar statuettes. Horrors! Someone stole the Oscars from the shipping dock. What to do! What to do! The show, of course, must go on.

Roadway Express quickly put up a reward. Fifty grand for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thief.

(A few weeks ago, a motorist, in a serious fit of road rage, grabbed another motorist's dog from the front seat, and threw it into oncoming traffic, where it was struck and killed. So far, largely through private contributions, the reward for the murderer of "Leo" approaches $100,000. Earlier, someone abducted a 7-year-old California school girl. The reward? $75,000. 50K for the Oscars? Go figure.)

But back to the "local hero," Willie Fulgear.

Variously described as a "junk-salvager" or "junk-scavenger," Fulgear, while rummaging through dumpsters, found a large box. Inside, he discovered 52 out of the 55 stolen Oscars.

Suspecting "foul play," as one local columnist put it, Fulgear took the box home, where he lives with his 22-year-old son. Fulgear and his son -- remember, they suspected foul play -- did what any red-blooded Americans would do. They logged onto the Internet, where they read about the missing Oscars. More important, they learned of the reward!

Fulgear sprang into action. He called the cops and the local television station. Soon, the media aired stories describing how Fulgear "saved" the Oscar ceremonies. Never mind that following the theft, the Academy immediately requested additional Oscar statuettes, and had a full supply for the event.

Soon, the "local hero" began demanding "his" money. "Right now," Fulgear said, "I want, I want the money. Right now. You know, because, they got theirs, I want mine." One slight problem. The company offered the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thief, not the recovery of the property. And while the police did apprehend a suspect -- a truck driver for Roadway Express -- there has been no conviction. So, even if Fulgear argued that the location of the property played a role in the apprehension of the thief -- which the police deny -- nobody has been convicted of anything.

But it gets worse. A black local columnist accused both Roadway Express and the Academy of showing insensitivity toward Mr. Fulgear, who happens to be black. Upset at the lack of blacks nominated for Oscars, this columnist somehow linked Mr. Fulgear's "plight" in not getting his reward with the absence of Oscar-winning blacks, "If Roadway Express and the Academy had any class, Fulgear would get a $50,000 check before week's end, decent seats to the ceremonies, and tickets to the Governor's Ball afterward. But class, like Oscars for black actors, seems to be in short supply." Get the connection?

Fulgear requested tickets to the Oscars. He asked that Roadway Express provide a job for his son, never bothering to explain why, in a hot economy, an apparently able-bodied and able-minded 22-year-old can't locate work.

displays his loot
What's next? Superbowl tickets, a trip to Disney World, a movie deal with the possibility of a television series?

Now Roadway's in a bind. Imagine the headlines if they sit on "his" money. "Insensitive!" "Uncaring!" Or even worse, "Racist!" So, although Fulgear did not meet the terms of the reward, the company gave him $50,000. They promised an additional $50,000 to the anonymous tipster, credited by the police with ultimately leading to the suspect's capture.

(Fulgear says he intends to use the money for a down payment for a home. Yeah, right, a home in the California housing market, where 50 grand, less taxes, gets you a hammock, provided you can find a couple of trees.)

A "local hero"?

A few days ago, Los Angeles Police Department SWAT Officer Louie Villalobos, 30 years with the force, died in a freak training accident. Over 30 years ago, Officer Villalobos served two tours of duty in Vietnam, winning the Silver Star for bravery.

In May 1997, during a shoot-out, Villalobos braved gunfire to rescue a detective. For his valor, Officer Villalobos received the Police Department's Medal of Valor. And, just last year, the department named him SWAT Officer of the Year. Respected, courageous, humble. One officer described Villalobos as "the best of the best." A local writer called him "literally a fallen hero."

Willie Fulgear. Officer Louis Villalobos. Will the real local hero please stand up? The grateful residents of Los Angeles know, however, that Officer Villalobos can no longer do that. So, we salute you, sir -- a true hero.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate