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Stuck, Broke and Scared 

A family stranded in Tucson finds itself in the middle of a crime.

The mercury has climbed into triple digits when Anthony Gregoris opens his motel room door to discover two sluggers with baseball bats walloping a third man on Tuesday, Aug. 11.

The victim of the beating, Chadwick Burns, lunges for the doorway, seeking sanctuary from his attackers. But Anthony, who's already had some unsavory run-ins with Burns during his stay at the motel, knows his wife, Nicole, and their 4-year-old son don't need to get in the middle of whatever scores are being settled here.

Anthony slams the door against the fingers Burns has lodged in the doorway. Since he can't get the door completely shut, Anthony pulls it back open, pries Burns loose and give him a good shove back toward the men with bats, who continue to bluntly express their disagreement with him.

Meanwhile, Nicole is frantically dialing 911. The cops arrive to break up the fight, but make no arrests, even though Burns has an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in Pima County Justice Court on charges of lying to police officers and weapons violations.

And then, according to Anthony, Burns gives him a warning that he's going to pay for failing to help him out.

Burns, 33, is bad news. He started serving a five-year sentence in the state prison system for attempted armed robbery in January 1995 and has had run-ins with the law since his release.

It's not as if Anthony, 38, needs any more trouble in his life. The unemployed auto mechanic arrived in Tucson at the end of July, fleeing even higher temperatures in Phoenix.

Anthony says he's recovering from a recent stroke, while Nicole is suffering health problems of her own. With their supply of money dwindling, the family has landed along a crime-plagued corridor at the Tucson Inn, 127 W. Drachman Road, while Anthony seeks work.

The day after the assault outside his room, Anthony says he's walking down to the bus stop with Nicole and their son when Burns drives by and points a dark object he's pretty sure is a gun. The family runs for the motel office to call 911 again.

Police officers nab Burns a few blocks away. They don't find a gun, but they do find a small crowbar that could be mistaken for a pistol. They also find narcotics and narcotics paraphernalia, according to the arrest report.

The cops don't have enough evidence to charge Burns with aggravated assault, but they haul him down to jail on disorderly conduct charges. When he appears on crutches in front of Justice of the Peace Carmen Dolny about 48 hours later, she cuts him loose, saying she's surprised someone in his poor health has been held as long as he has been. Burns promises to appear to answer the outstanding charges next month.

Meanwhile, Anthony feels threatened, so the county attorney relocates the family to a different motel and pays for one night.

"In the victim assistance book they gave us, it says they have emergency safe homes and shelters and transportation and childcare and all this stuff," Anthony says. "All we got was the room for one night. The local safe house in town won't help us because we were threatened. So we're kinda distraught."

Anthony convinces a church to pay for Thursday night, but now the family is nearly out of money and down to a meager half-jar of peanut butter, a couple slices of bread and some dry cereal.

All Anthony wants at this point is a bus ticket out of town; he needs $377 for three tickets to Oklahoma City, where his mother lives. But local agencies aren't willing to pony up any money. A staffer at the county attorney's office says money is available to help if someone is hurt or killed, but not to buy him a Greyhound ticket, according to Anthony.

"They can pay for injuries or burials, but they can't prevent 'em," he says.

By early this week, Anthony and his family are still at the motel, living day to day. He hopes to find some work and get enough together to leave town. He says the county attorney's office has asked him to stay in town through Aug. 25, when Burns is due in court again.

"This guy doesn't belong on the streets of your town," he says. "But after that, I'm getting out of here."

More by Jim Nintzel

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