TEENAGERS IN SOUTHEAST PORTLAND, Ore., usually drive to the Taco Bell on Division Street for late-night burritos, but on Aug. 16 a crowd came looking for trouble. At 1:30 a.m. an argument in the parking lot flared into a fight that left one man dead of stab wounds and sent several more to the hospital. Diane King, 33, Taco Bell's manager on duty that night, spotted Sean Woods, 18, a high school dropout, motionless in the street. "The traffic was whizzing past him," says King, who rushed to his aid. "I didn't even pay attention to the chaos...I just wanted to make sure the kid wasn't dead."
Fortunately, Woods was alive, though badly beaten. King, a former nurse's aide, spent minutes at his side, took his pulse and, using a cordless phone, described the scene to a 911 operator. "At that time I said, 'The police are here,' " she says. "[The dispatcher] said, 'Okay, I'll let you go.' "
As it happened, so did Taco Bell. On Aug. 30 the company fired King for leaving her post and ordering another worker to come with her instead of leaving matters to the police. Reports of the firing, which Taco Bell at first refused to discuss, caused a media furor, and after two days the restaurant chain offered her "another chance" at her $7-an-hour job. "We have very strict policies," the company declared in a statement. "Our shift manager went outside the restaurant and placed herself and other crew members at severe risk.... However noble her cause, we believe [she] exercised poor judgment."
King was infuriated. "I didn't know that if I went to help someone in the street, dying, that I would be terminated," she says, though at the time she was acting more as mother than manager. Last March her ex-husband James Philpot, a Portland subcontractor, badly bruised their 11-year-old son Adam's leg by accidentally driving over it. "I know what it feels like to have your kid run over," says King. "I didn't want [Woods's] parents to find out their kid was dead and nobody even bothered to see if he was alive."
King has no plans to return to Taco Bell, and since three other companies have offered her work, she probably won't have to. "I'm no hero," said King, who supports Adam, his brother Robert, 13, and husband Mike King, 35. "I'm just someone doing her job."
On Newsstands Now
- The Little Couple: A New Mom's Fight to Live
- Remembering Nelson Mandela
- Princess Kate's Style Secret!
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine