Last week marked the 20th anniversary of an ugly event in American history -- the LA race riots. One of the most riveting and horrific scenes of those riots was the live televised sight of a truck driver being pulled from the cab of his truck and brutally beaten, nearly to death.
The riots were triggered by not-guilty verdicts in the racially charged trial of the police beating of Rodney King. Six days of rioting left dozens dead and thousands injured. A jury with no black members had acquitted four police officers in the videotaped beating of King, a black man stopped for speeding nearly 14 months before.
Reginald Denny was driving for Transit Mixed Concrete Co. not after that verdict was handed down on April 29, 1992, when he had the bad fortune to be at the intersection of Florence and Normandie in south Los Angeles, where a liquor store was being looted. He stopped to avoid running over someone and was dragged from his truck. One attacker smashed in his head with a brick; another stepped on his head afterward. By the end of the attack, Denny's skull was in more than 90 pieces.
Titus Murphy was one of four total strangers who rushed to Denny's aid in a tale of heroism and compassion. In an interview with a local NBC affiliate, he explained that he was watching the violence unfold on TV a few blocks away. After the brick was thrown at Denny, Murphy could no longer just watch. "Something inside me said, 'Get up; you have to do something," Murphy said.
Denny had managed to pull himself back into the truck but was bleeding heavily and in no shape to drive. A woman named Lei Yuille comforted Denny inside the cab. Murphy hung off the side of the truck and directed Bobby Green, a truck driver who had also arrived at the scene, who couldn't see through the shattered windshield to drive. Murphy's then-girlfiend, Terri Barnett, drove a car in front of the slowly moving truck 3 miles to the hospital.
In this video, Green talks about his role in the rescue:
After extensive surgery, Denny survived the beating, but his speech and ability to walk were damaged permanently. He moved to Arizona and shunned media attention for most of the past 20 years, although he did reportedly accept an apology from one of his attackers.
Denny was white, but none of his rescuers were. Murphy told the interviewer that he didn't even think about the race of the man he was helping.
In a 2002 interview, Denny said he had long since forgiven the men who assaulted him. He reserved his anger for the politicians and police, whom he said abandoned the city that day.
Read more about the attack:
The L.A. Riots: 15 Years After Rodney King: Reginald Denny (Time magazine)
Corrected 4/30/2012 to indicate that the rescuers were not all black; one was Asian.
Updated 6/1/2020 to replace embedded videos that were no longer functioning.