2009-09-10 / Front Page

Local man loses a finger at protest over healthcare

By Nancy Needham nancy@theacorn.com

A Newbury Park man whose finger was bitten off by an Obama healthcare reform supporter on Wed., Sept. 2 made headlines around the country.

After being interviewed by the Thousand Oaks Acorn Bill Rice, 65, went national and was interviewed on camera by Fox News.

Rice said he was traveling past a demonstration at Hillcrest Drive and Lynn Road where people were holding a rally in favor of the president’s healthcare reforms. He said he noticed some of the people were from the antiwar group Code Pink.

“I have a son who is a 2nd lieutenant with the United States Marine Corps, and I wanted to make sure they weren’t there giving the military a difficult time,” Rice said.

He respected their right to free speech, he said, but was interested in finding out what was going on. So he stopped and talked to several people who explained to him they were against the war but not against the troops. He said he was here only about five minutes, didn’t know anyone else who was here, wasn’t chanting, didn’t have a sign, and was satisfied with he group’s answers, so he decided to leave.

“As I was heading toward my car, a man aggressively came over to me and began screaming like an insane individual, ‘You’re all idiots!’ I should’ve run, but I didn’t think of that at the time. I instinctively defended myself and took a swing at him,” Rice said.

Upon taking a second swing at the man, Rice’s little finger on his left hand got caught in the mouth of his opponent, who bit off the digit below the bottom knuckle.

“I thought he swallowed my finger,” Rice said.

Rice hurried to his car and drove himself to nearby Los Robles Hospital and Regional Medical Center, where he was treated in the emergency room and released.

Thousand Oaks resident Scott Bush found Rice’s finger and brought it to the hospital, but it couldn’t be reattached. Rice said the risk of infection was too high.

“The people in the emergency room treated me in such a professional way. They were just wonderful. Nobody asked me if I had insurance or if I could pay for it until after I was treated,” said Rice, who receives healthcare insurance through the government’s Medicare program.

Thousand Oaks Police Detective Eric Buschow said there were about 60 or 70 Obama supporters on The Oaks mall corner of Hillcrest Drive and Lynn Road, and about a dozen opposing protesters across the street.When the altercation between the two men began, police were called.

The other man hasn’t been identified but is sought by police to provide his side of the story, Buschow said.

He’s been described by witnesses as a white male, about 40 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, 180 to 200 pounds, with a heavy build, short black hair, brown eyes and no facial hair. He was wearing a black shirt and black shorts.

“The pro-Obama healthcare people are the ones causing crimes, but those who are on the other side are the ones being called ‘angry mobs.’ I think it’s the other way around,” Rice said.

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