This Thug's Life

Frank Lontine thought being in a gang would be cool. Now he's got plenty of time to think about why it isn't.

"All of a sudden, for no reason, the car just busted a U-turn, and all these guys jumped out and started running at me," he says. Lontine says he fired six shots in the air to try to scare them off, but they kept coming. Then, with no time to reload, he sprinted across a parking lot and into an alley behind Joe's Cave, a bar. He says the Sedanos caught him in the alley and beat him senseless. Two of the BAP members who were with Lontine at the bus stop were nowhere to be seen. The third stuck by him and took a beating as well.

The Sedanos got back in their car. Lontine was on all fours, struggling to get to his feet when he saw the headlights coming at him. He thought it was a police cruiser at first and felt a surge of relief -- forgetting in his panic he was a wanted man -- until he realized the lights weren't going to stop.

The Denver Police Department tells a different tale. According to police reports, Officer Anthony Tak was parked in his cruiser across Federal from the bus stop when he heard gunfire. He looked across the bar parking lot and saw Lontine running down the alley, firing shots in the air. Then, according to Tak's report, Lontine leveled his gun at the occupants of a white sedan idling in the parking lot.

Frank Lontine lived with his grandmother, Loubbie, for three years.
John Johnston
Frank Lontine lived with his grandmother, Loubbie, for three years.
Frank in his Brown and Proud days.
Frank in his Brown and Proud days.

What happened next is not in dispute.

"They ran me over just like I was a dog," Lontine says. The wheels crushed Lontine's left femur. He started screaming. Then the driver of the sedan switched gears and ran over Lontine again, this time in reverse. (The driver told police a few minutes later he was simply trying to get away and had no idea Lontine was in the path of his vehicle.) Lontine was caught beneath the chassis and dragged 100 feet down the alley. His left arm twisted behind him and snapped. His head dribbled on the pavement. He could feel the skin being grated from his torso. "There were sparks flying, and I was just howling and crying. I was waiting to die," he says. Officer Tak arrived on the scene seconds later. He stopped the Taurus from leaving, then called for an ambulance and backup.

Police reports show officers interviewed two occupants of the car that ran over Lontine. Joseph Gorrocino and Valencia Vasquez told police they had parked their car at Joe's Cave and got out to take a 3:30 a.m. stroll along Federal Boulevard when, for reasons unknown to them, Lontine "tried to start trouble and brandished a gun." They told police they ran back to their car and Lontine chased them, firing in the air. They said he then jumped in front of the car and pointed the gun at them through the windshield, forcing Gorrocino to floor it and run Lontine over. After taking their statements, police let them go. No charges have since been filed against them. Lontine was eventually charged with felony menacing.

He lost consciousness as a paramedic was cutting away the remnants of his shredded, blood-soaked clothes.

"The last thing I remember," he says, " is red and blue everywhere."

Loubbie Lontine is 75, but she remembers in fine detail the night her beloved grandson shot a man in the face. "It was three o'clock in the morning, and the phone rang; it was Frank calling," she says. "He said he had two buddies with him, and he wanted to know if it was all right if they came over. I told them as long as there were no girls."

Then she got up, made a pot of coffee and waited. "They didn't come in until about 4:30, and they went right back to Frank's room and started making a lot of racket."

Frank's room is a sparse white chamber with a single bed in the back of his grandmother's brick duplex situated across Federal Boulevard from Mile High Stadium. The walls of his room are a checkerboard of magazine ads for Bacardi Limón, photographs of Tupac Shakur and posters of Jennifer Lopez. Loubbie says one whole wall used to be covered with shots of Frank and his friends striking poses, but the police came into her house and took them all away a few days after the shooting, which she refers to only as "that Texaco thing." Scrawled over Frank's bed is gang graffiti: "Brown and Proud/North Siders/XIVXIVXIV." (The Roman numeral 14 stands for "N," the fourteenth letter of the alphabet.)

"They were in there talking loud and playing music," Loubbie says. "I went back and opened the door and told them to be quiet, because I was afraid they would wake up the neighbors on the other side of the wall. I saw they had a bottle of rum, and I told Frank he's not old enough to be drinking." A few minutes after she scolded him, Frank came out with his friends and started to leave the house. Loubbie asked where they were going at five in the morning. Frank told her they were walking to Labor Ready, a day-labor service two blocks away, to see if they could find work. After they left, Loubbie scoured Frank's room for the bottle of rum, but it was gone.

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