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Another Rough Road Ahead : Homecoming: A retarded 19-year-old who was missing is with his family again. But the D.A. plans to arraign him today.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eric Schimmel smiled brightly Thursday as a shoe salesman laced two pristinely white high-tops onto his feet.

Next to the retarded 19-year-old lay a pair of soiled gray sneakers that he had worn during a 20-mile walk from Ventura to Fillmore--part of an unsuccessful attempt to reach his family home in Frazier Park.

Schimmel, who has the mental capacity of a 5-year-old, began his four-day journey after he was arrested last week and then released Friday night from the Ventura County Jail without his parents’ knowledge.

“Look at those,” Schimmel said in the shoe store, pointing out the new apparel to his mother. “Those look good.”

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Schimmel was enjoying the first full day with his family since he was arrested Aug. 7 after climbing into a neighbor’s van that he believed was filled with toys.

The teen-ager’s mother, Linda Smith, said she was told by Ventura County sheriff’s deputies that Schimmel would spend the weekend in jail on $20,000 bail, an amount the family could not pay. But relatives who called the jail Sunday to ask about the teen-ager were told that he had been released on his own recognizance at 11:56 p.m. Friday.

A frantic family search ended Wednesday morning when sheriff’s deputies found Schimmel in Fillmore. He had lingered there, living in front of a supermarket, after he became confused about how to find his home 60 miles away.

Thursday, Schimmel’s mother said she was relieved that her son is home but said the family’s ordeal is far from over.

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“This is like one big continuing nightmare,” Smith said.

The district attorney’s office plans to arraign Schimmel today on charges of vehicle tampering, loitering and petty theft of a corkscrew from the neighbor’s van. Deputy Dist. Atty. Brenda Andrade said she will recommend that Schimmel be diverted into a counseling program rather than face a jail term of six months to a year for each of the three misdemeanor charges.

Schimmel’s lawyer, David Sanders, said he would ask the prosecutors to drop the charges. If they decline, he said he will plead not guilty on Schimmel’s behalf rather than enter the guilty plea required to qualify for the diversion program.

On Thursday, Sanders called Schimmel’s family to say that he would appear on Schimmel’s behalf so the teen-ager would not have to attend the proceedings.

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As Schimmel stood outside his family’s small, blue clapboard house in a remote neighborhood near the Kern County border, the teen-ager said he had already done many of his favorite things since his return.

“I played a little Nintendo,” he said, motioning to a game in the pocket of his brightly colored shorts. “I got me a Game Boy right here.”

He said he also went dirt-biking with his brother and saw some family friends. And the teen-ager, who told his mother he had gone without food or drink for two of the days he was gone, filled up on his favorites--pizza, French toast and hamburgers.

Later in the day, he joined his mother and 15-year-old brother, Jayson, on a trip to Santa Clarita so his mother could see a doctor about her injured finger, and he could pick out a new pair of shoes.

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He played Nintendo intently for the first part of the trip, then talked about the baseball cards he has collected and joined in discussions of the family’s plans.

But he fell silent when asked about what had happened to him after he was released from jail. When asked if the days were difficult, he closed his eyes and nodded his head slowly.

Smith said that since Schimmel has been home, he has talked a little about what happened.

When the teen-ager was released from the jail, he looked for his family, expecting to find them waiting, Smith said.

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“Just walked around,” Schimmel said.

Then, he started walking. He was familiar with California 126 from family trips to Ventura, so he traveled along the side of the highway, reading road signs to make sure he was heading in the right direction.

Schimmel told his mother he made it to Fillmore in two days but then became lost.

In Fillmore, he lived outside a Vons supermarket and slept in a nearby vacant parking lot. A grocery store clerk gave him money for food and kept an eye on him.

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Schimmel told his mother that he kept a lookout for his family’s Ford station wagon.

“Every station wagon that he would see, he would think, ‘That’s my mom. That’s my mom,’ ” Smith said. “He was very afraid.”

Times correspondent Christopher Pummer contributed to this story.


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