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Sarai Ribicoff, the 23-year-old niece of Sen. Abraham Ribicoff,...

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VENICE, Calif. -- Sarai Ribicoff, the 23-year-old niece of Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, D-Conn., and a top writer for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, was shot to death Wednesday night during a robbery outside an expensive French restaurant.

Police said Miss Ribicoff and a male companion were accosted by two robbers as they left the Chez Helene restaurant a few blocks from the ocean shortly after 10 p.m.

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The robbers fired several shots after taking her companion's wallet and at least one of the bullets hit Miss Ribicoff in the chest. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Several hours later, police arrested Frederick Thomas, 21, when he appeared at a hospital for treatment of a wound on his left wrist. He was booked on suspicion of murder at County-USC Medical Center. A search was underway for a second man.

Miss Ribicoff was the second Ribicoff relative to die violently in the past two years. Another niece, Gail Rubin, was killed in a Palestinian terrorist raid in Israel in 1978.

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Miss Ribicoff was named an editorial writer for the Herald Examiner last February and was described by her boss as one of the brightest people on the staff.

Lt. John Zorn said Miss Ribicoff, the daughter of Irving and Belle Ribicoff of Hartford, Conn., and her male companion were leaving the restaurant when they were accosted by two men who demanded their money.

The companion, who was not identified, handed over his wallet, Zorn said, and then the gunmen, apparently without provocation, opened fire. The companion was not injured.

Edgar De Leon, chef at the Chez Helene, said the couple arrived at the restaurant about 8:30 p.m. After they left, he said, he heard a commotion and went outside where he saw Miss Ribicoff lying on the sidewalk, about 10 yards from the restaurant, bleeding badly from a bullet wound in the chest and unconscious. He covered her with some blankets he got from the restaurant.

Officials said she was dead by the time police and fire paramedics arrived at the restaurant.

Police said Thomas was arrested at Marina Mercy Hospital when he appeared there for treatment of his wrist. The wound was 'fresh,' Detective Phil Sartuche said, but how he got it was not known.

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Miss Ribicoff was born in Hartford, attended Noah Webster and Loomis Chaffee schools and graduated with a bachelor's degree in history in 1979 from Yale Univesity where she worked on the Yale Daily News.

While at Yale, she also worked summer jobs with a New York law firm and Mademoiselle magazine and was a Yale correspondent for Time magazine.

She joined the Herald Examiner in July 1979 as a general assignment reporter on the city staff, writing occasional features for other sections of the paper.

Associate editor Thomas Plate described her as 'the brightest 23-year-old writer I've ever met. She would have become a great newspaper editor or magazine editor or anything she wanted.

'To understate it,' he said, 'she was easily one of the brightest people on any paper in the country, and certainly at the Herald Examiner.

Her father is a partner in one of Connecticut's most prestigious law firms, Ribicoff and Kotkin. She is also survived by a sister, Dara.

Senator Ribicoff, 70, is retiring this year as Connecticut's senior senator. He was first elected to the Senate in 1962. Ribicoff previously served as a congressman and U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

Connecticut Gov. Ella Grasso said in a statement, 'This is a senseless tragedy. Tom (Grasso's husband, Thomas) and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Ribicoff family.'

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