Looking back: Year in Review

By Mary O’Keefe

In our normally quiet little community, 2009 has been an unprecedented year that saw the area’s worst fears come true.  From the runaway big rig that tragically took two lives to the fire everyone knew was coming and now the sleepless rainy nights dealing with the aftermath.

Photo by Steve Goldsworthy
Photo by Steve Goldsworthy

Angeles Crest Highway tragedy

On April 1, Marcos Costa, 44, of Massachusetts drove his big rig from the Antelope (14) freeway through the mountainous road down the Angeles Crest (2) highway.  As he approached the steep downward grade to Foothill Boulevard he apparently lost control of his big rig, his brakes had failed.  According to investigators,  Angel Jorge Posca, 58, from Palmdale and his 12-year-old daughter Angelina had just exited the Foothill (210) freeway and was turning north to take the ‘Crest home when  Costa’s big rig slammed into the Posca’s vehicle.  The truck pushed the vehicle to Foothill Boulevard, hitting several other cars and finally slamming into the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse.   Costa was arrested and later charged with vehicular manslaughter for the two deaths, then with murder charges.  A judge dismissed the later charges but prosecutors appealed the dismissal.  His trail has been delayed indefinitely while an appeals court hands down its  decision on whether he can be charged with murder.   The city of La Cañada Flintridge had voiced their concerns about the possibility of such a tragedy years before the big rig fatal accident.  City, state and federal officials successfully rallied to ban big rigs from the ‘Crest and to repair and build pull out truck arrester beds to help slow down runaway vehicles.

IMG_3748The Station Fire

Before the fire:

Crescenta Valley residents had long been told about the dry conditions of the mountains that line the area.  Fire expos were common, abatement was required and firefighters constantly monitored the hills.

In March a group of concerned Briggs Terrace residents lead by Kim Mattersteig met with Crescenta Valley Sheriff and Los Angeles County Fire Department officials.  They voiced their concern about an evacuation plan if and when a fire broke out in the mountains above La Crescenta.  What resulted was an August evacuation drill with over 200 residents participating.  Residents met  again with representatives from emergency responders including the newly formed Crescenta Valley Fire Safe Council.  Many put their name on the information call list for the council.

On Aug. 26 a fire broke out in Angeles National Forest.  By all accounts it seemed to be a controllable fire but by the next day it was out of control and spreading throughout Angeles National Forest.   The sun was blotted out by smoke over La Crescenta, far north Glendale, Tujunga and La Cañada.  Fire trucks and emergency vehicles filled the streets.  Residents near the base of the San Gabriel Mountains were evacuated.  The American Red Cross center was established at Crescenta Valley High School and manned by adult and teenage volunteers.  People waited for the air water tankers and for the fire to be under control but the wait was much longer than anyone thought.   At the end the fire had burned 160,577 acres and was fully contained on Oct. 16, according to Incident Information System (InciWeb).  However some areas in the forest continue to smolder.  Sixty-four homes were confirmed destroyed, 17 out buildings and three commercial sites said a spokesperson from U.S. Forest Service.

The fire brought tragedy with the loss of two firefighters. On Aug. 30, four days into the Station Fire, L.A. County Fire Capt. Tedmund “Ted” Hall, 47 and Specialist Arnaldo “Arnie” Quinones, 34, drove off the side of a mountainous road near inmate Camp 16 near Mt. Gleason.  The two men, reportedly, were searching for a safe route out of the fire area for correction workers, fire personnel and inmates then found themselves trapped by the fire.  Montrose Search and Rescue assisted L.A. County firefighters as they drove through the fire to recover the two fallen firefighters.

On Sept. 4 Glendale, L.A. County and U. S. Forest firefighters lined the overpasses of the Foothill (210) freeway.  Members of the Glendale police and Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station joined them as they paid honor to Hall as his motorcade drove down the freeway.  Sgt. D. Bakewell from California Department of Corrections had been assigned to Camp 16 until the last February.  He was at the freeway memorial with a crew from Camp 11.  Bakewell knew the two fallen firefighters well and shared the fire department’s loss.

The fire has been determined an arson.  L.A. County homicide detectives have been investigating the fire but as of today have no suspects.  From the beginning of the fire  L.A. Supervisor Michael Antonovich has called for an investigation into the response to the fire. On Dec. 21 called for a Congressional investigation into the U.S. Forest Service’s failure to utilize air support for the Station Fire.

The CV Fire Safe Council’s president Roger Young kept a constant vigil at the fire’s base and contacted those who had signed up for his phone connection program.  Many have said it was hearing his calm voice helped them as the hills blazed.   The Crescenta Valley Town Council updated the fire’s progress and evacuation orders on their website.  The Glendale Unified School District used their ConnectEd phone system to inform parents of air quality and school’s opening day being delayed.   The Crescenta Valley Weekly was not officially up and running at that time but reporters sent information via “The Blast” to email recipients that had contacted the publisher.

Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station was set as the initial incident command center then later moved to Hansen Dam.  Press conferences were being held as federal officials like representatives David Dreier and Adam Schiff and state officials like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came to assess the damage.

After the fire:

The first response as the fire died down was to thank the firefighters and law enforcement for their help and support.  “Thank you” signs could be seen on Office Depot fence, homes, parks and on rooftops.  It was clear that Crescenta Valley residents understood the risks firefighters and other emergency responders took as they fought to save homes and lives. Then as the smoke cleared and firefighters were gained control of the blaze, community members took a good look around and saw mostly ash.  The light, oily soot was everywhere.  It was on cars, homes, trees and flowers.  It was in the air and Air Quality Management District’s website became a Crescenta Valley favorite.  Suddenly masks were in style and it seemed like everyone was cleaning and sweeping their homes non-stop.

YIR bearThe environment:

The Station Fire took its toll on the Angeles National Forest and Deukmejian Wilderness Park.  The  hillsides and hiking trials that were once covered with vegetation now look like a moonscape.  Black barked trees twist out of the gray soil.  The forest and park still remain closed and although still barren a few sprigs of green can be seen peeking through the ground.  Life does find a way.   Wildlife like coyotes, deer, mountain lions and bear were affected by their home being destroyed.  Residents reported seeing more deer coming down off the mountains but also more coyotes roam below Foothill Boulevard.  And then there was the bear in the backyard of a home on Prospect Avenue.  The bear appeared to have burned paws and just wanted a safe green place to rest.  The La Crescenta backyard was the perfect place with tall grass and low-lying trees.  CV Sheriff deputies and Fish and Game responded and released the bear into the Angeles National Forest.

YIR mudAnd now the flood/mud:

So community members again breathed a sigh of relief as the fire was contained and became used to dusting and cleaning while wearing a mask.  Then came the meetings warning about the rains and the possible mudflow and flooding. Both L.A. County and Glendale Public Works Departments became proactive in not only cleaning the debris basins but also educating the residents about the next disaster.

It is not a matter of if but when the mud will flow, warned one L.A. County fire captain.  Unprecedented and historical were the words commonly used in describing the next big thing.  U.S. Geological Survey members have boots on the ground studying the hillsides.  Police, sheriff and fire officials meet regularly with public works to make certain debris basins are cleaned and everyone is ready for the rains.  The first rain was quick and harsh.  Mud flowed down onto streets like Pineridge and on Starfall Drive the side of the mountain came down taking out a brick fence and filling a driveway.  The rains stopped, an army of trucks rolled from debris basins to dumping stations, volunteers filled thousands of sandbags, residents scooped up the mud and waited for it to happen all over again.  The rains came again and lasted for many days but this time the mud just soaked in the water and for the most part stayed in place.  Officials continue to warn that this is not the end of the cautious time but the beginning.

YIR volunteersVolunteers

The one constant in the fire, ash, flood and mud was neighbors helping neighbors.  Crescenta Valley and Clark Magnet high school students volunteered for the American Red Cross working from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.  They filled sandbags and helped seniors that needed to place them around their house.  Neighbors whose homes were not threatened by the disasters came to help those that were.  Glendale Public Works Steve Zurn said that the community has been supportive and commended Crescenta Valley residents.  And the volunteerism continues with those helping the hillsides at both Deukmejian and Angeles National Forest.

YIR FletcherAdam Fletcher’s Eagle Project

Crescenta Valley’s Boy and Girl Scouts have helped beautify parks, schools and community buildings.  Adam Fletcher’s Eagle Scout Project took on a life of its own as he worked to bring honor to the memory of a Missing In Action soldier. Fletcher was looking for an Eagle project when Jack Maison called his father and told him of a memorial in disrepair.  It was at the foot of a large tree in the parking lot of Verdugo Hills Hospital.  The memorial was broken and lying on its side.  It was a plaque in memory of S Sgt. David S. Demmon who had gone missing in Vietnam in 1965.  Fletcher took on the project and at the time did not know anything about Demmon except that it didn’t appear that he had any connection with Crescenta Valley.  Eventually he found that Demmon’s sister, Carol Deutsch, was a long time La Crescenta resident.  He also found out the memorial was originally placed in 1973.  Fletcher cleared a space at the base of the tree and had the memorial repaired.  The dedication began with a motorcycle procession of veterans. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars honored Demmon and Fletcher’s work.  Deutsch presented Fletcher with a medal that had been given to her brother.

YIR AnglicanSt. Luke’s Anglican turns back to Episcopalian

On Oct. 12 workers from the Episcopal Diocese of L.A. removed the St. Luke’s of the Mountains Anglican sign that had been at the rock church at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Rosemont Avenue for the last three years.  It was replaced with the St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church.  In 2006 members of the then Episcopal congregation voted to leave the L.A. Diocese to align with the Anglican diocese of Uganda.  A battle in court began between the Anglicans and Episcopal Church that lasted for three years.  In October a judge agreed with an earlier decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeal and ruled the L.A. Diocese is the legal owner of the property.  The Anglicans moved out to the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Glendale and the Episcopalians moved back in.  The court battle seemed to be at an end in mid-December when the St. Luke’s Anglican filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States.  The court has yet to announce if it will hear the case.

YIR murder in LCMurder in La Cañada

On Oct. 16, La Crescenta resident Aaron Welch, 47, shot Genny Herrera in her La Cañada apartment before turning the gun on himself.  The reasons for the murder/suicide are still not clear.  Welch was well known in La Crescenta.  He had worked for many years at  Crescenta Valley Towing and for a short time at Crescenta Valley Water District. He was let go from CVWD due to a “reduction in staff” according to Dennis Erdman, general manager.  After he left there appeared to be an issue between Welch and a CVWD employee who took out a restraining order against him.  The relationship between Welch and Herrera has been described as a friendship.  On Oct. 15 Welch contacted the CV Sheriff’s Station requesting assistance in retrieving property from the La Cañada location.  It appeared to be a landlord/tenant situation at the time, said Sgt. Ray Harley.  What made Welch go to the apartment with a gun a few days later is still unknown. Herrera had a young child that attended a nearby La Cañada school.

YIR CVTCCVTC support and change

The Crescenta Valley Town Council had a very successful pancake breakfast fundraiser.  The money raised goes toward the council’s scholarships for local schools.  CVTC saw some changes this year after its elections in November.  Three regular member seats and three alternates were up for election. Incumbents Robbyn Battles and Dennis van Bremen kept hold of their seats and newcomer Todd Thornbury joined them as regular members.  Incumbent Charles Beatty won the votes as alternate council member and new members Kim Mattersteig and Silvana Casalegno both won alternate seats. President Steve Pierce chose not to run this year to spend more time with his family.  Liz Arnold and Joyce Lauterback also opted not to run for re-election.   At the December meeting councilmember Grace Andrus announced that she would be stepping down before her term was completed.   Cheryl Davis was voted in as president of the council at that same meeting.

YIR duckDucks racing

The Kiwanis Club of Glendale had another successful year at the races. The Kiwanis Incredible Duck Splash is fundraiser that benefits the entire community.  Participants can adopt a duck in the name of their favorite non-profit organization.  The ducks then race at the temporary Lake Verdugo at Verdugo Park in Glendale. Crescenta Valley High School’s Marching Band kicked the fundraiser off at the Americana in Glendale.