News

The $3 Billion Man: Topangan Richard Boeken Wins Record Judgment

By Michele Johnson

"This is who I am. I don't take anything lying down." That's how lung cancer victim Richard (Rick) Boeken, explains his decision to fight the big tobacco company that he believes is killing him. In a huge victory for anti-tobacco forces, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury recently awarded Boeken, age 56, $5.5 million in general damages and $3 billion in punitive damages in a lawsuit against the Philip Morris tobacco company. In a case full of superlatives, it was the largest judgment ever won by an individual against a cigarette maker.

VOL.25 NO. 13
June 28 - July 11, 2001

NEWS INDEX:

PHOTOS BY ANTHONY P VEREBES

Richard and Judy Boeken in a bittersweet moment.

Boeken, his wife Judy, and their son Dylan, age 9, after years of driving up to Topanga, moved here from the Palisades this year, taking possession of their new home just two days before Rick found out that the cancer he thought he'd beaten had taken the upper hand. Though he's thin--Judy says he's lost 80 pounds--and obviously ill from the lung cancer that has metastasized to his back and brain, he answered questions with an air of calm self-possession and quiet determination. On the whole, he's ignored the media blitz surrounding his win, turning down many offers for TV and print interviews.

What does he say to the critics, including Philip Morris representatives, who complain he was warned early and often that cigarettes were dangerous and only has himself to blame for his addiction? Why did he sue? "To protect my family financially," said Richard, and "to go after and hurt the tobacco companies."

When he started smoking in 1957 at age 13, it was years before the standard warnings were stamped on cigarette packages. Cigarette ads proliferated on billboards and television. Back then, says Rick, "I don't think anybody was aware of the danger. Everybody smoked."

Rick says when he met his lawyer Michael Piuze (right), he "knew he was the man for the job."

And though tobacco company executives have denied until very recently that cigarettes are addictive, internal documents showed that Philip Morris' own tests verified the dangers and addictive nature of tobacco over 20 years ago. Rick's lawyer, Michael Piuze, also charges that cigarette companies have made a dangerous product even more addictive. They've manipulated additives in cigarettes, like urea, he says, that "supercharges nicotine and allows it to be more addictive" and chocolate, which "opens up blood vessels and allows smoke to enter the lungs faster and deeper." And Philip Morris competitor R. J. Reynolds claims that Philip Morris specifically added more nicotine to its Marlboro cigarettes to hook smokers faster and harder.

WANTED: BIG TOBACCO LITIGATORS

Though critics say lawyers are in this for the big payoff, Piuze protests that though he's put his firm's year-long research on disk and offered it "to lawyers around the country, there have been almost no takers."

"This case cost me $400,000 bucks out of my own pocket," Piuze said, and months of preparation. He estimates that the appeals will continue for at least four years, and if history is any judge, the winning figure will probably be slashed dramatically before the appeals are done. Hundreds of people have called his office for representation since the verdict was announced and he can find few lawyers who will take the referrals. This is his first cigarette case.

"I don't take or not take a case based on personal connections, but in this case there is something personal." Boeken was born on August 15, 1944; Piuze on July 31, 1944, he said. They both started smoking as early teens. Each had a two-pack plus Marlboro habit, Piuze quitting after 23 years: "I lived what he did. He lived what I did."

And so, "As far as I'm concerned, they [the tobacco companies] tried to kill me." And why the record jury award? "I don't think it's a mystery. I think they got what they deserved."

HE BEAT ALL ADDICTIONS BUT ONE

It's not as if Richard Boeken never fought his reliance on cigarettes. "I tried to quit. It's highly addictive. It's like saying 'What are your reasons for having a right arm?'"

He knows about addiction. Rick met Judy at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting 25 years ago, while he was fighting addictions to both heroin and alcohol. He and Judy won those battles. But they both smoked, and though she tried to kick that habit twice, Judy only finally quit when Richard was diagnosed.

Rick and Judy were both just "kids from the '60s," said Judy. "Some get addicted, some don't." She's a California native, he moved here with his family from Manhattan when he was seven. They both bounced around, becoming college dropouts in those free-wheeling days.

Richard majored in art and business. And though he worked for a time as a background artist for Hanna Barbara, business won out. He's started and run several businesses over the years, most recently working as a self-employed oil and gas dealer. As for now, "I haven't been able to work. No."

Judy, once an alcohol and health recovery therapist, has been a stay-at-home mom since she had Dylan at age 40. Dylan was spending the night at a friend's house, but his presence was everywhere in the comfortable home. The backyard was dominated not just by the pool, but by a huge sand pile filled with dump trucks. His school papers were posted on the fridge, including one that reads, "This is what being healthy means to me. It means you make sure you don't get sick. You also brush your teeth. . .Lastly to take your medicine when you're sick. That is what I think about health."

STUNG BY CRITICISM

Judy is upset about those who criticize her husband. She urged us to be sure to say what a good father Richard is to his three stepchildren and Dylan. "I really want that to be stressed," she said poignantly. They'd bought the house with a pool to serve as a focal point for the extended family. Her other two adult sons "always looked up to Richard," she said, and his stepson by his first marriage recently wrote Richard "what seems like a love letter."

"I hate anyone who puts my husband down. It takes courage to get clean and sober. Research on heroin addicts show that it's easier to stop heroin than stop smoking." At AA meetings, she added, "You see everyone smoking." Outside electronic speakers are set up at some meetings to reach the addicts glued to their cigarettes.

The week after the verdict was "horrible," Judy said. She listened to one radio talk host say "how stupid juries are. They weren't. I looked at them. They were young and bright. I was reading about them--they had government jobs, health jobs. . .Also, all races."

She'd bought all the newspapers, but threw them out when she read what they'd had to say. "I wasn't going to send my son to school the next day," for fear he'd get picked on, she said. But the kids were kind. "Kids did say, 'I'm sorry your dad's going to die.' Others were happy for him, that he's going to be rich," she said ruefully.

Rick made the decision to call a lawyer on the spur of the moment without consulting her. Lawyer Michael Piuze, she said, "admires us so much. Some people come forward and are too afraid to go through with the whole thing."

When they started, "Michael gave us a history lesson" about big tobacco abuses. "Michael considers them the biggest drug dealers on the planet." She can't believe the Federal Drug Administration still doesn't regulate tobacco. "They regulate pet foods, but not tobacco."

Both she and Rick were deposed for the trial and she took the stand twice. She found the experience grueling. "They are mean," she said of Philip Morris' lawyers. They videotaped her husband because they didn't know if he'd last until the trial was over. "You realize how sick your husband is. He is becoming sick in increments. . .You never think it can happen to you. We thought we'd be 80 together."

Judy stayed to hear part of the interview, but finally couldn't take it anymore. "It was nice meeting you. I have to go upstairs and cry now."

When asked what he plans to do with the rest of his life, Boeken answers, "One bad thing about this disease, making plans is very difficult." Does Rick think he will be around to see the appeals play out? Emotion scorched his voice for the first time as he replied, "Probably not. But I intend to try to be."

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Lower Canyon Community Meeting July 9

By Susan Chasen

The California Department of Parks and Recreation is scheduling two local meetings on the proposed Lower Topanga Canyon parkland acquisition--the first will cover relocation issues, but this time with State Parks taking charge of the meeting, and the second will be a public hearing on the proposed acquisition itself.

The relocation-oriented meeting will take place on Thursday, June 28 at 7 p.m. in the Topanga Elementary School auditorium. The community hearing, a required step in the acquisition process, will take place on Monday, July 9 at 7 p.m., also at the Topanga Elementary School auditorium.

State Senator Sheila Kuehl has said she and Assemblywoman Fran Pavley were asked by State Resources Secretary Mary Nichols to facilitate the community hearing and were willing to do it. However, she said she didn't think either of them would be available until August. "To make the hearing wait. . .until August just didn't seem like a good idea," said Kuehl.

The proposed acquisition involves 1,659 acres of Lower Topanga Canyon from Pacific Coast Highway to the boundary of the existing Topanga State Park about 2.5 miles up Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

The proposed purchase promises to forever end speculation about future development on the site and fulfill a nearly 30-year State Parks' vision for an extension of Topanga State Park to the coast. However, it has generated controversy over the tactics used in procuring the property.

In particular, the extreme hurry to remove both business and residential tenants from the property by the end of this year has created tremendous anxiety in the close-knit community. Now that approach has been acknowledged to have been unnecessarily urgent, but just what the timing will be for relocations or for considering possible alternatives remains a big question.

Also, there are many in Topanga and beyond who would like environmental goals and cultural-historical preservation ideas to be considered together before the property is cleared--while some of the site's history is still thriving.

Artist and long-time Topangan Kedric Wolfe called the Rodeo Grounds "sacred ground" because of the time that renowned Zen Buddhist Alan Watts spent there.

"I've known a lot of people down there a long time. . .I think it's worth saving. I'm for parks too, but I'm with the people on this one," said Wolfe. "It's kind of funky in an almost Cannery Row way."

Kuehl, who emphasizes that she has no direct authority over the project, has agreed to work with the many parties involved to improve communications and to create a more realistic schedule for relocating tenants. She has met with residential tenants and is planning a meeting with business tenants.

According to Lower Topanga resident Bernt Capra, Kuehl was also scheduled to meet again June 19 with attorney Frank Angel, who is representing the Lower Topanga tenants, to discuss tenant proposals.

Kuehl has said relocation should not be required until plans for work on the property require it. At the same time, she said the residents should know that they can't stay for "years and years and years. It might be that it should happen by next summer," said Kuehl. "But we're not setting a deadline."

In a recent article in the Santa Monica Mirror, Kuehl was quoted as saying that Governor Gray Davis would like to have a ribbon-cutting on a new visitor center on the property as soon as next year. Kuehl stands by the remarks, which she said were intended to show that the governor--being an Angelino--is very interested in the acquisition and would like to move quickly if possible.

PHOTO BY CY BERLENZ

Several signs in Lower Topanga referring to a "Gray Davis Visitor Center" were inspired by that comment.

There are some Lower Topangans who are willing to move and to take advantage of relocation benefits that would cover the difference in their rents for 42 months or provide the equivalent in a lump sum for a down payment on a house. Currently, rents among the 46 recognized residential households average about $1,000 and range from $300 to $1,500. Comparable housing rents are expected to be much higher.

However, most of the tenants are united in objecting to the tactics which they believe have sought to unfairly expedite the acquisition and relocation process without regard to the human impacts of dismantling a community.

Capra said the tenants are still considering whether to pursue legal action to prevent an expedited relocation and to require extended leases as have been granted in other similar situations.

At this point, however, the tenants charge that the third party in the deal--the private, non-profit American Land Conservancy (ALC)--was improperly taking on the state's responsibility for relocation. Several parties have said the ALC--which is brokering the deal between the property owner, LAACO Ltd., and State Parks--is now donating the relocation planning expenses money to State Parks, and State Parks is now overseeing the project. This, in turn, may encourage tenants to cooperate in the relocation planning process. Previously less than 25 percent were cooperating even minimally with the ALC-hired relocation consultants.

In related matters, the State Parks Southern Service Center in San Diego has been given the go-ahead to prepare an Interim General Plan and Environmental Review document for the proposed Lower Topanga parkland. Ecologist Karen Miner from the Southern Service Center attended the June 16 Topanga Watershed Committee to hear preliminary results on the Topanga Lagoon and Watershed Restoration Feasibility Study. She said the project is on a fast track. She also said a historian will be assigned to the team as well.

Other steps required before the $43 million acquisition can be completed include: approval by the state Board of Public Works of both the site selection and the acquisition, normally handled in separate monthly meetings and requiring 30-day hearing notices; approval of the Governor's budget, which includes an additional $8 million over last year's $40 million to cover both the added $3 million to purchase the property and another $5 million for relocation, bringing the project cost to $48 million; and some mechanism for contending with LAACO's stated deadline of July 14 for the sale to close.

None of the parties involved think it likely that State Parks will be able to acquire the property in a simultaneous transaction with the ALC by July 14. The most realistic timeframe for State Parks would probably have the project first going to the state Public Works Board at its September 14 meeting.

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Happy Trails To Topanga School

By Susan Chasen

The Santa Maria Trails and Parks Association (SMTPA) has agreed to provide a grant of $2,500 for environmental programs at Topanga Elementary School this fall along with a grant to the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council that will provide for reopening of the school's nature trails and amphitheater area.

SMTPA president Debra Stern sees this as a modest but important first step in her organization's involvement with Topanga Elementary.

"I would really like to put the effort forth for Topanga Elementary," said Stern. "I'm sure by September they'll know exactly what they want to do and where we fit into it."

The grant was sought this year after most of the Topanga-based SMTPA's roughly $25,000 in annual grant awards were already dispersed. But Stern said she anticipates providing additional funding in the future provided the school's proposals are well-defined and conform with the organization's goals.

While some of the details are yet to be worked out, it appears that Topanga Elementary will receive $2,500 in September for environmental education, with additional funding likely in 2002. The Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council will receive $2,500 for equipment purchases or other needs in exchange for taking on the job of refurbishing the school's approximately half-mile network of nature trails.

"It's exciting," said Eileen Goodman, principal of Topanga Elementary School. "It's beautiful up there and it will be even prettier when we get it cleaned up.

"Hopefully we'll get this back to where it's much more usable for us and then sustain it."

According to Goodman, the Student Council would like the trail to be open during lunch for supervised nature walks. Other ideas include funding a docent for walks, as well as for added support for teachers who want to use the trail and amphitheater for nature or other programs. It might also be used for arts education--drawing, drama and poetry readings--she suggested.

"It's a lovely place for instruction," said Goodman. "I kind of see it as an unlimited resource."

MORE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION

Goodman said the funding for environmental education could cover a variety of needs, from buses for field trips to nature programs that expand on watershed conservation programs the Santa Monica Mountains Resource Conservation District is developing for the school.

Debra Werner, a Topanga Elementary School parent, writes grants for the school and has led the effort to involve the SMTPA in supporting the school.

Werner said she sees this as an opportunity to begin long-term planning for environmental science at Topanga Elementary and to focus attention on a part of the school's mission statement that pertains to its being in a mountain community.

"I would like to see the school become a more active part of the community," said Werner. "When people develop an appreciation for the mountains, they become more responsible for what Topanga is going to be."

Linda Palmer, Vice President of the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council, said she expects the trail work will be done in early September. She was planning to walk the trails the week of June 18 to see what will be needed--step replacements and the like--and to see if the trail alignment is still evident through the meadow area or if it will have to be redone.

The most important thing, according to Palmer, is to clear the weeds so children won't accidentally step on a snake because they can't see where they're stepping. Also, it's nice not to get foxtails in your socks, she said.

According to Palmer, the school's trails connect to the Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail, though it is not clearly defined through that area.

VOLUNTEERS WELCOME

Local volunteers are welcome to join the Trails Council's volunteers in the effort, Palmer said. They should call (818) 222-4531 in late August to sign on.

According to Goodman, the Topanga Boy Scouts have done clean-up work on the school's trails on Earth Day in recent years. Thad Geer originally designed the trails and amphitheater and may be called in to consult on the repair work.

Goodman, Stern, parent Rick Oginz and another parent met in May to discuss the grant options. More meetings are expected for later this summer to finalize plans and to plan for next year. "We're laying the foundation for a long-lasting and fruitful relationship," said Goodman.

Stern agreed. "I thought it was a really good meeting," she said. "We're really looking forward to helping them in 2002 with a larger sum of money. Hopefully, that will enhance their program."

Stern said she would love to help with special programs, an environmentalist-in-residence program, or acquisitions of books on environmental subjects for the school library.

A NEW BEGINNING

The SMTPA received a $500,000 endowment for such projects from the Canyon Oaks developers who planned to build 97 homes and a golf course in Summit Valley but ultimately sold the property for parkland instead. While Stern and other members of the SMTPA board supported the development and were at odds with most of Topanga during that development fight, the group has since provided grants to support a number of environmental programs, though for the most part outside of Topanga.

According to Stern, who has lived in Topanga on Santa Maria Road for 14 years, initial attempts years ago to involve Topanga Elementary were not successful. She thought it perhaps was a legacy of the Canyon Oaks fight. So this funding for Topanga Elementary represents a kind of new beginning.

The SMTPA, founded in 1994, has awarded numerous grants to public and private schools in the Woodland Hills and Calabasas area--to the Children's Nature Institute's programs for bringing underprivileged children and children with special needs along with their parents and teachers into the mountains, and a major grant to UCLA's Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve, which hosts programs for thousands of school children each year.

The organization's largest recipient has been Viewpoint School, which has received $54,000 since 1997 and will receive another $30,000 over the next three years. Stern sees the goal of this funding as producing a prototype for high quality environmental education that integrates numerous academic fields and can be transplanted to other campuses. This includes the school's ECOLET (Ecology Curriculum for Outdoor Learning with Experimentation and Technology), reproduction of extensive K-12 curriculum materials, and opportunities for teachers and students from other schools to visit and participate in the Viewpoint program.

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Zev Gives $25,000 To Community House

By Michele Johnson

The Topanga Community Woman's Club (TCWC) and the entire community of Topanga has something to celebrate. "It's official," said Susan Nissman, Senior Field Deputy for County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. The Supervisor has earmarked $25,982 from his FY 2000-01 Discretionary Funds to CHIC (the Community House Improvement Committee of the Woman's Club) to study the feasibility of making major improvements on Community House grounds.

Yaroslavsky decided to give the community a leg up because, as he said in an exclusive interview with the Messenger, "Topanga is the one large populated unincorporated area in our supervisorial district." For that reason, he added, "I always take a proprietary interest in Topanga. . .Basically, I'm a facilitator. Not just County Supervisor, but municipal government, if you will."

And, he said, "For a long time, I have been interested--because the community is interested--in improving the Community House." Showing an impressive knowledge of Topanga, he listed some of the many groups that rely on the Community House and those that could use an expanded community center, stressing especially the needs of the kids of the Canyon. "The community deserves 21st century capability with 20th century atmosphere."

But he was cautious when asked if the community could count on further County funding. "I don't want to say the County will be in a position to help," he warned. In the past there has been, he said, "State money for special projects. Now we're behind the eight-ball in terms of timing, but the timing will be right again." He suggests that doing the legwork now "makes a lot of sense, so we'll be ready when the time is right." As we all know, he said, the State and County are "spending a lot of money paying for our utility bills."

The State of California, working through State Senator Sheila Kuehl, has helped the City of Calabasas with major funding to build its community center, he pointed out. "When the State was flush with cash, it was able to produce. . .We're not that flush this year." But when times are better, he envisions that the project could be completed with "a combination" of funds from State, private sources, "and possibly the County."

The $25,982 is the exact figure requested by Lola Babalon, President of the Topanga Community Woman's Club, and Pat Mac Neil, Chair of CHIC, in their letter to Zev. They based that figure on the costs of "essential preliminary technical studies to establish the feasibility of construction on the site." The money will be earmarked in the following ways: aerial mapping, $2,400; geological analysis, $6,982; septic system design and testing, $11,600; and a detailed conceptual site plan, $5,000. The estimates were made by professionals in each field.

Three high priorities were mentioned in the letter to the Supervisor. First, the TCWC hopes to build a new 1,200-square-foot Emergency Operations Center. Then it would like to refurbish and enhance facilities of the current House, which Zev said, "not to hurt the sensibilities of Topangans," could use "a little updating." Finally, the plan is to build "a new multi-purpose building of some 6,000-square-feet to provide new quarters for a caretaker as well as meeting and classrooms for a variety of purposes and groups, chief among them a senior and teen center."

The TCWC would not give up ownership or control, but continue to own and run the Community House as a private nonprofit entity. The proposed expansion is based on a community survey circulated throughout the Canyon last fall, and community input will continue to be actively sought. CHIC was formed last fall, with the hope of tapping into then- very-available public funds to help expand and improve the Community House. The 25 or so members of CHIC consist of representatives of virtually every group in Topanga--from T-CEP to the Town Council--including importantly, Susan Nissman, who has acted as liaison with the Supervisor.

TCWC president Lola Babalon is delighted with the grant. "I think I speak for myself and the Board when I say I'm very happy and excited about the progress that can be made. . . .It's rewarding to bring people together to do something beautiful."

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Topangans To Pesticides: SCAT!

By Tony Morris

Concerned citizens have created the Santa Monica Mountains Coalition for Alternatives to Toxics (SCAT). Endorsed by the Topanga Town Council, Topanga Canyon Creekside Homeowners Association and other Topanga groups, SCAT is fighting the use of glyphosate, a herbicide manufactured by chemical giant Monsanto.

Already due to their efforts, use of the herbicide to eradicate the giant bamboo--like Cane Arundo Donax--have been put on hold until the matter can be reviewed by the Topanga Watershed Committee in conjunction with SCAT and the rest of the community.

SCAT members Rabyn Blake and Steve Hoye say that there is an alternative to using glysophate to eradicate Arundo Donax, which was introduced in California to aid in the stabilization of stream banks. Unfortunately the plant proliferates throughout the Canyon and has crowded out native plant species. Blake and Hoye say there is a far safer way to remove the fast growing plant. Manual removal of the plant would be safer and could provide work opportunity for students and members of the California Conservation Corps. Tricia Watts, a member of the Watershed Committee, supports a plan for individuals to "adopt" sections of the creek for Arundo removal just as businesses and individuals sponsor cleanup of portions of Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

Steve Hoye, a Topanga resident and fundraiser for California Coast Keeper, also pointed out that Gerry Haigh, a long-time resident and bird expert in the Canyon, has manually removed a stand of Arundo. Removal of the plant requires that all of the plant's root structure--rhizomes--be removed so the plant cannot continue to grow. With careful manual removal residents do not have to be exposed to the dangers of a powerful herbicide. The alternative is repeated treatments with glyphosate over the years.

Those interested in obtaining more information about herbicides RoundUp and Rodeo from SCAT's sister organizations--the Northwest Coalition For Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP), Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATS), and Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR)--should go to websites www.pesticides.org, www.igc.org/cpr/ and www.alternatives2toxics.org. Information on the chronic and acute health impacts of pesticides and herbicides is available in peer reviewed medical data published by Physicians For Social Responsibility and on SCAT's hotline at (310) 455-1060.

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It's Already Begun: Fire in the Canyon

By Penny Taylor

The dispatch over the scanner was reporting a fire on Summit to Summit about three-quarters of a mile in from Old Topanga Canyon Road. Hearing that, more than a few people were probably having flashbacks to November 2, 1993, when arsonists set a fire by the water towers at the top of Old Canyon that burned over 17,500 acres, destroyed homes, and left three people dead and one scarred for life.

The June 5 fire, which began only a 150 yards away from that former fire, was a minor skirmish in comparison. It wasn't as dry as that November, and the winds were heading toward the Valley.

Teenagers were "off-roading" adjacent to the Summit to Summit fire road. A girl driving a Range Rover got stuck about two-thirds of the way up the hill she was attempting to climb. The vehicle rolled back and was right on the edge of a steep drop-off. A young man with a huge (big, I'm talking big) pickup truck with a winch on the front went up to the top of the hill by way of another track and was attempting to pull her up. Either the exhaust system or catalytic converter on the Range Rover ignited the brush.

The young man, who, according to one of the parents does a lot of off-roading, had a fire extinguisher and attempted to put the fire out, but there wasn't enough foam to accomplish the job. He got on a cell phone and phoned the Fire Department and his mother.

Captain Mike Johnson and C Shift from Los Angeles County Fire Station 69 responded to the call and, as Messenger's business manager Mary Colvig described them passing her home on Old Canyon, "They were hauling ass."

A helicopter also responded, along with an engine, patrol and water truck from Station 70, Battalion Chief Brian Hughes, the women of Team 3 from Camp 13 and Call Fire Fighters Ken Widen and Jessica Corday. The helicopter made a drop that pretty much nailed the fire. It only took about five to ten minutes to bring everything under control.

Deputies Eric Hoffman and John Peck of the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station were on scene to investigate. Both were familiar faces since they partied down with everyone at Topanga Days. Okay, they didn't exactly party like the rest of us, but it's rumored they actually had a good time.

According to Detective Gary Spencer of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Arson Squad, charges are not being filed because the fire was an accident. However, according to Sergeant Kevin Mauch of Lost Hills, off-roading is only legal in some designated areas of government land or on private land. It is not legal to off-road on the hills adjacent to Summit to Summit.

The hill the teenagers were attempting to climb isn't completely vertical, but it's a reasonable facsimile. Steep, rutted with a silty, gravely surface, it would make sense to take a mule up there. I can't imagine what made them think they were going to get a Range Rover to make that climb. I crawled up this hill practically on my knees and then opted to descend on the other side for fear that I'd fall on my ass, wind up entangled in fire hose and completely embarrass myself.

Although the fire turned out to be minor, lives and property were put in danger because people didn't think before going out to have a little fun. One homeowner expressed his concern over the dangers of off-roading in the area. The fire crews were working on a highly unstable hillside and one of the women from Camp 13 grimaced with pain as part of the slope broke away beneath her and she slid down several feet while clearing brush.

With fire season just around the corner it's good to keep in mind that the undersides of vehicles are extremely hot and it's not wise to park over grass or brush.

Also, Arson Watch head Allen Emerson advises people to equip all off-road vehicles with brush guards for catalytic converters for extra safety against fire. Check with your dealer or shops which work on off-road vehicles.

As for cell phones, people may not like all the Sprint/Verizon equipment coming into the Canyon, but a cell phone may have made the difference here. There is something to be said for modern technology.

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Friends Turn Out For Louie Kelly

PHOTO BY TONY MORRIS

Louie Kelly (seated center) gets by with a little help from his friends: (clockwise from left) Laurie Greco, Steve Rieser, Danny Tucker, Pat Burke, Stephen Nimmer, Joe Adams and Kathi Burke.

By Tony Morris

Once again Topanga showed its care and concern for an old friend, Louie Kelly, when his friends Danny Tucker and Steve Rieser organized a benefit at Pat's Topanga Grill on Friday, June 15.

Dave Loe performed with Spanky McFarlane, and the place was packed as Topangans from all walks of life came to say hello to their friend Louie. Organizers say they raised $1,600 and want to thank everyone who helped with arrangements, especially Pat and Kathi Burke for their kind and generous hospitality, "Angel" Bill Nordhoff, Armeda Madrid and Wendy Krause of Wendy's California Trail, "Hat John" Folley, Chris Adams and Trish and Leggs, who coordinated the food.

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It's Not Nice To Fool (With) Mother Nature: A Cautionary Tale About Rattlers

By Penny Taylor

Somewhere out there is a hero. We don't know who he is. We don't know where he's from. We do know that on May 5th his actions and the help of other hikers and personnel from Station 69 saved Brian Wolf's life.

Brian and his girlfriend, Alison Learned, had come up from Hermosa Beach to hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. They chose Red Rock and went up the fire road and then higher up onto the trail, until they were so far up that even on the trail the brush was thick. They had started back down and Brian took a leap over some brush and landed on a rattlesnake. The snake wasn't pleased about being stepped on and turned around and bit Brian on the foot right by his pinkie toe. Brian didn't panic, but as he said later, "I knew I had to get out of there fast." And he and Alison set off at "a pretty good pace."

In only 15 minutes he was losing both strength and muscle control. They reached a small junction in the trail and that's when his luck turned. They ran into another hiker they had met earlier. The man began carrying Brian piggy-back down the hill. Alison took off as fast as she could to go for help.

By Brian's estimate the unidentified hiker weighed about 175 pounds. Brian weighs in at 200. Sections of the trail were slippery and they had to use caution. The hiker also had to stop a few times to catch his breath. Brian said that although he was deteriorating physically, mentally he was still cognizant of what was going on--he thinks the man carried him for about 45 minutes.

Further down the trail, Alison was running into other hikers and sending them back up the trail. She went down to phone 911, and the others eventually met up with Brian and his rescuer. Now five or six guys were carrying Brian down.

The A Shift from Los Angeles County Fire Station 69 was on duty and Captain Steven Floyd brought the patrol as high on the trail as possible. By that time Brian was pale and vomiting.

Brian recalled, "I was feeling it traveling into my diaphragm and lungs."

Station 69 started an I.V. and loaded Brian onto the patrol wagon, backing it down the trail. The helicopter landed and transported Brian to UCLA Medical Center.

The venom had thinned Brian's blood so much that is was permeating his body, and he was bleeding internally by the time they landed him at UCLA. In the next two days in the intensive care unit they used the entire inventory (20 doses) of anti-venom on him. He was five days in the hospital.

HERO WANTED

A month later Brian is "feeling great!" His muscles took a big hit, so he's still recovering, but now he's out to find the man who saved his life.

In all the commotion at the bottom of Red Rock the man just faded into the crowd. When Brian and Alison had met him earlier in the day he'd been lifting rocks. Nothing spiritual in it like tree hugging, just working out and using rocks and boulders as weights. On the way down the hill he'd told Brian his name and kept trying to keep Brian talking, but as Brian puts it, "My adrenaline was way up." He doesn't remember his name, "but he was my angel." He does remember the man had a small collie or sheltie along with him.

So here's a big thank you to Brian's angel, and we're hoping someone out there knows who he is and how to contact him so Brian can thank him in person.

BUT. . .

And there's a big "but" here. Even though it's a hero's story, Captain Floyd pointed out that it would have been better if Brian had stayed where he was and Alison had gone for help. First and foremost you want to stay as still as possible when you get bitten by a snake. Your adrenaline's already going to be pumping. Activity will only increase your blood flow and spread the venom through your system faster.

In this case, staying above would have been better because, as the Captain said, "Red Rock is kind of tight. It would have been easier for the helicopter to get to him higher up the trail."

There are a lot of snakes out this year. It's a good idea to keep your eyes open and look at what you're stepping into. And hiking boots are harder for a snake to penetrate than, say, the tennis shoes I wear. Don't cut open the wound and suck the venom out or apply a tourniquet. Immobilize the limb with an Ace bandage wrap or splint, but no tighter than you would for a sprain.

The University of California San Diego website www.health.ucsd.edu/ poison/snakes.asp has photos of different rattlesnakes found in California and advice on avoiding snakes and dealing with bites.

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