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SALT LAKE CITY — A panhandler assaulted a car passenger at a drive-thru after the vehicle’s occupants refused to give him money Tuesday, police said.
Ricardo Vigna, 44, was approaching vehicles in the drive-thru at the McDonald’s located at 210 W. 500 South to panhandle at about 6:50 p.m., according to Salt Lake City Police detective Veronica Montoya. She said he became aggressive when the occupants of a car refused to give him money.
“He had a guitar in hand, with which he started striking the car,” she said. “The passenger was yelling at him to stop. He went around to where the passenger was seated and actually opened the door and tried pulling her out of the car.”
Vigna punched the 68-year-old woman in the chest before a witness who saw what was happening stepped in and pulled him off of the woman, according to a probable cause statement. Montoya said the woman was able to get back into the car and shut the door.
Vigna fled when McDonald’s security personnel broke up the fight between him and the witness, Montoya said.
The woman was examined by medical on scene, but did not need to be transported to the hospital, according to police. She had minor injuries.
Vigna was located a short distance away by police and taken into custody. He was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping/abduction, aggravated assault, criminal mischief and interference with an arresting officer, according to the probable cause statement.
There was about $1,000 of damage to the car, according to the document.
He had a guitar in hand, with which he started striking the car. The passenger was yelling at him to stop.
Montoya said she thinks this type of incident is unique, but that those who encounter aggressive panhandlers while in a car can roll up windows, lock doors and call 911.
State court records show Vigna was found guilty in August of intentionally defacing property and threatening violence, both class B misdemeanors. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail and placed on six months probation.
On Sept. 8, he was convicted of an amended charge of attempted assault on a healthcare provider for taking a swing at a paramedic in 2012, according to court records. He was sentenced to four days in jail, which would have ended Friday.
A nearby building manager says he knows the man accused of the attack.
"I believe that's crazy Richard, as we call him," Shannon Cowley said. "He has a real anger problem. (He) snaps and yells."
Cowley said Vigna is part of a group of aggressive panhandlers that has not only solicited money but obstructed the sidewalk, yelled racial slurs and left behind a mess of broken windows, garbage and human waste.
"Somehow we just can't get them off the street," Cowley said. "I believe they're always going to be a problem if we just can't pass some restrictions on them."
Aggressive panhandling is a complicated problem for cities to solve due to first amendment considerations.
Police say they get involved when panhandlers block sidewalks and threaten people, even if people are made to feel uncomfortable.
"We want people calling our dispatch center and we'll be responding to those types of calls," Det. Cody Lougy said.
Nick Como with the Downtown Alliance tells KSL that they've heard the complaints from business owners, and last year aggressive panhandling was, for the first time, a greater concern for people coming downtown than parking.
The group's answer? Education.
"It's plain and simple. Panhandling is a business and if business is not going to be good, they're going to go elsewhere or close up shop, so don't support panhandlers and they'll go away," Como said.
Salt Lake City councilman Charlie Luke issued a statement about the issue of aggressive panhandling Wednesday.
"Aggressive Panhandling was most recently discussed by the Council about two years ago," he said. "It is a difficult issue because there are court cases limiting what cities can do, based on civil rights and free speech. The SLCPD implemented a HOST program designed to help get people connected to the services they need.
"The committee that is working on homeless issues downtown has been actively looking for solutions. The deployment of Police Officers in the new Metro Support Bureau helps the Police deal with the issues more efficiently because it brings more focus to the problems and the officers all work together in a single unit.
"I am scheduling a briefing in October for the Council regarding the Metro Support Bureau and will get an update on the efforts by the committee working on issues related to the homeless during that same time frame."
Contributing: Pat Reavy