December 6, 2002
PEORIA - The Christmas spirit was called into question Thursday afternoon when a Salvation Army bell ringer allegedly slapped a Wal-Mart customer in the back of the head, starting a brawl that rolled into the store.
Neither the bell ringer, Ronald Rich, 58, of 2918 N. University St., nor the customer, Charles Phillips, 67, of 5818 Andover Place, were arrested after the scuffle, but police were called to the store to sort out the mess.
The problems started when Phillips pulled his car up in front of the store, 3315 N. University St., about 10:30 a.m. so his son could run in and get a wheelchair for Phillip’s wife, who had recently broken her pelvis. Phillips admitted he was illegally parked but said he wasn’t going to stay long.
"It was just a temporary thing," he explained Thursday night.
A Wal-Mart security employee told him to move along, and Rich, who was ringing a bell for the Salvation Army, joined in, motioning for him to move, according to Peoria police reports.
"Which he had no business to do," Phillips said firmly.
Phillips finally parked the car and walked up to the store. As he moved past Rich, he said to him: "You don’t tell me where to park, you just ring your bell. . . . My back was turned, and that’s when he hit me."
Rich later admitted to police that he slapped Phillips in the back of the head. Rich could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
But Phillips didn’t take the action quietly. He flailed Rich with his cane about the head several times.
"I hit him hard as I could. And I kept hitting him as hard as I could. I’m disabled, but I wasn’t going to take that. I gave him everything I had," Phillips said.
The fight rolled inside the store and ended up near the spot where the store’s greeters stand.
After the brawl, Phillips said his wife had "some choice words for me, but I take them from her."