Remembering the View from Florence and Normandie During the Riots of ’92

How helicopter news team Bob and Marika Tur brought the L.A. Riots to a world audience

In the early evening of April 29, 1992, thousands of Angelenos were frantically trying to track down family members, but watching KCOP-TV’s exclusive coverage of the mayhem at Florence and Normandie avenues, Gerry Gerrard knew exactly where his daughter was. Just a couple of hours after a Simi Valley jury acquitted all four officers of the Rodney King beating trial, Marika Tur was giving her father and the rest of the world a bird-eye’s view of the L.A. riots unfolding in real time. Hanging out the side of KCOP Newscopter 13, she trained the lens of her gyrostabilized videocam on arson fires, smashed glass, looters laden with everything from beer to paper towels, guns going off, motorists dragged from their cars and kicked and beaten until their heads were coursing blood. Gerrard had picked up little Jamie and Katy Tur at Santa Monica Airport and taken them to his Marina del Rey apartment, so at least they were safe with him and their grandmother. But thanks to Marika’s husband, Bob, the hotshot news pilot who routinely plunged himself and his wife into harm’s way, Gerrard’s grandkids could soon be orphans.

Gerrard called into the cell phone wired into the audio system of the Turs’ Eurocopter AS350. Bob picked up. “I want my daughter out of there,” Gerrard told him. “Sure Gerry, anything you say,” Bob responded, and switched off.

Crowded into the cockpit with Marika and Bob (who transitioned to female last year and is now Zoey Tur) was a backup pilot and their sound man. Bob also brought along an attorney to intervene should the LAPD order him to leave the area or try to arrest him—a needless precaution since around the time of his arrival the local division commander had ordered all officers withdrawn from the riot’s epicenter.

Bob assumed his usual on-air persona as he began delivering his commentary. His tone and his choice of words were precise and understated, providing leeway for a steady dramatic build. “In terms of police presence, there’s none,” he reported. “Just terrible violence here. We up here in the air are not immune to it. People have been firing up at us from below. Fortunately, we’re a small target in a big sky.”

As Marika zoomed in on construction worker Fidel Lopez, Bob lost his composure. If Lopez would become the forgotten beating victim at Florence and Normandie, it wasn’t for lack of live coverage. “Now they’re pulling the driver out,” Bob said, “and they’re kicking the driver and beating the driver. The driver’s only mistake was entering this area. He’s been kicked in the head and he’s lying in the street. Ok, this is it! This is it!” Approaching Lopez’s prone and bleeding body, an assailant raised a car radio and smashed it into his skull.  “This is tragic,” Bob said. “This man is unconscious in the street and people keep coming up and throwing things at this poor individual.”

When Marika shifted her camera toward Reginald Denny, the truck driver had already been torn from the wheel of his dump truck and was under attack. Blood turned his white shirt red. As he tried to pull his body off the pavement, Denny was kicked, struck with a clawhammer, and hit in the head with a piece of medical equipment. Damian “Football” Williams seemed to be playing for Marika’s camera as he hurled a brick at the victim’s head, then pointed a jeering finger and did a victory dance.

“I used to be a medic,” Bob told his audience, “and to see this happen and not be able to help these people…. It’s indescribable, the feeling, how powerless we are.”  He had packed a licensed .45 automatic and a 9mm pistol for the flight, and he now opened an off-air debate over whether they should shoot at one of the assailants who looked to be beating Lopez and Denny to death. The idea was quickly voted down. “Shooting a moving target from the air would have been insane,” Zoey Tur recalls more than 20 years later. “I would have had to land the helicopter, and we’d surely be fired upon, and they’d be throwing rocks and bottles at the rotor system. Then, if we were shot down, we’d have to find a house to barricade ourselves in.” It would be up to good Samaritans on the ground to shield the victims, rush them to hospitals, and save their lives.

Around 3 a.m., the Turs touched down and drove to their home in Pacific Palisades for a shower and a two-hour nap. From Thursday to Saturday they were in the air, widening the area of coverage as the fires, looting, assaults, and murder spread through the city. Then it was off to New York to film a segment on the Today Show. When they returned home, their children were waiting. Katy, then 9, had watched the KCOP broadcast at Florence and Normandie with her grandfather, but hadn’t shared his concern over her parents’ safety. “I didn’t understand it fully at the time,” Katy remembers. “What they did for a living seemed like more of an adventure than anything else.”