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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Raymond Clark: Homeless Panhandler Sets 7-Eleven Customer on Fire

     Thirty-eight-year-old Raymond Sean Clark, a homeless panhandler, regularly loitered outside the 7-eleven store on the Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach, California. Clark made a habit of hasseling customers who patronized the convenience store by begging them for money and cigarettes. He had become an unwelcome fixture in the neighborhood. (A pain-in-the-neck like Clark is a store manager's nightmare.)

     At five in the afternoon of April 12, 2013, as Jerry Payne sat outside the 7-eleven store in his Toyota 4-Runner, the 62-year-old was approached by Clark who asked him for money. (If Mr. Payne was a regular customer of the store, Clark had probably hit him up for money before.)

     When Mr. Payne refused to give Clark a handout, the transient poured a bottle of gasoline into the SUV and tossed in a match. The vehicle and its occupant were immediately engulfed in flames. (The fire was so intense customers and employees in the convenience store had to escape through a back door.)

     After Good Samaritans pulled Mr. Payne out of the burning vehicle, paramedics rushed him to Torrance Memorial Hospital, a medical facility that specializes in burn patients. With third-degree burns on his chest and face, the victim was in critical condition.

     Police officers arrested Raymond Clark around the corner from the fire. Charged with attempted murder, he was held in the Los Angeles Inmate Reception Center under $502,200 bail. Upon Mr. Payne's death, the prosecutor elevated the charge against Clark to murder.

     In April 2014, a year after the deadly assault, Jerry Payne's family filed a wrongful death suit against the 7-Eleven convenience store chain and the city of Long Beach. The plaintiffs based the civil action on the theory that the attack had been foreseeable therefore preventable. According to the plaintiffs, both the owner of the store and the police had known that Raymond Clark was aggressive and dangerous.

     Assistant City Attorney Monte H. Machit described Mr. Payne's death as an "absolute tragedy." However, he said, Long Beach could not be held accountable for every "random act of violence that took place in the city."

     It's very difficult to protect citizens from people like Raymond Clark. That is the sad truth of this case. As a result of his senseless assault on this totally innocent and unsuspecting victim, Clark will spend the rest of his life being fed, housed, and otherwise cared for by the already overburdened taxpayers of California.

     The wrongful death suit has not gone to trial, and for some reason the open-and-shut murder case against Raymond Clark has not been tried. (I can find no reportage that Mr. Clark has pleaded guilty, or that a judge has ruled him incompetent to stand trial.)  

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