Two pillows of purple, swollen skin bulge around Peter LaBeck’s eyes. His nose, broken in four places, is scraped and swollen. An oozing shiny scab clings to his elbow.
“Don’t I look pretty?” the balding 81-year-old said Friday from his Spokane home. He swiveled his chair from side to side nervously, dabbing a bloodied tissue at his nose.
“I’m a Christian,” he said, stopping the chair. He touched his bruised, freckled scalp. “So I’ll forgive them for doing this to me.”
LaBeck, a retired Air Force sergeant, was attacked by three teenagers downtown earlier this week - an assault police say was racially motivated.
The youths, all black, didn’t rob LaBeck of the nearly $100 in cash he had in his wallet.
“They just walked up and called me ugly white trash,” LaBeck recalled. The teenagers swore at him and said they were going to beat him up.
“And then they did.”
LaBeck said only one of the boys punched him, while the other two cheered him on. The blows stung LaBeck’s face and head and his lower dentures broke in two. The false teeth tumbled from his mouth and bounced on the sidewalk.
Based on descriptions of the suspects, all three were caught a short time later on the north end of the Monroe Street Bridge. The boys accused LaBeck of yelling racial slurs at them and denied hitting him, police said.
Adrian Washington, 16, 1413 N. Freya, was arrested for third-degree assault. Witnesses identified him as the youth who delivered all of the punches to LaBeck.
The teenager lied about his name and age several times before finally being booked into the Juvenile Detention Center. He has been arrested 13 times for assault, drugs, theft and disorderly conduct.
Another teenager, Brandon Linker, 19, was cited and released for carrying a dangerous weapon. The third boy wasn’t arrested.
Witnesses said LaBeck didn’t say anything to the youths before they confronted him. He was on his way to the bus stop to go home, they said.
“I didn’t say anything,” LaBeck said. “They just hit me and called me ugly.” He paused and spread out his arms. “I don’t think I’m ugly.”
LaBeck said he takes a bus downtown every day to go to church at Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral. Then he walks to McDonald’s on West Riverside, where workers fry him a cheeseburger made just the way he likes it: no pickles and extra onions, diced into oversized chunks.
When the bruised LaBeck shuffled into the restaurant on Friday, several employees visited with him while he ate. One bought him flowers.
“My eyes are hurt but I can still see pretty girls,” LaBeck said, beaming. “Thank goodness for that.”
A story about LaBeck’s attack first appeared in Thursday’s Spokesman-Review, and officials said the victim may have been a transient. In fact, LaBeck has lived with his wife, Elsie, in a tidy South Hill home for the past 40 years.
Dozens of outraged residents offered money and even free dental services to help him out.
While flattered, LaBeck insisted he didn’t need any money and said his teeth would be fixed by doctors at Fairchild Air Force Base.
But when he found out it would be more than a month before he could be seen at the base hospital, a Spokane dentist promised to replace LaBeck’s dentures for free next week.
LaBeck, a dedicated member of the Mid-City Senior Center on West First, brags about his work there, especially with Meals on Wheels, which gives food to elderly shut-ins throughout the county.
His favorite part of the day is visiting friends at the center, where he clears the tables after lunch and takes out the garbage.
“He loves people dearly,” said Deanne Houston, the center’s manager. “He loves just being with people and talking.”
LaBeck stayed home only two days after the assault before coming back downtown. On Friday, he played bingo and socialized with the other guests as usual.
At the suggestion that he get someone to walk with him to the bus stop from now on, LaBeck assured everyone he had his cane.
“I’ll be OK,” he said. “I’m cheery. I like everybody, you know.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)