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Twin Deaths Shake Up Family Area : Tujunga: A neighbor says he reported the toddlers unsupervised the day they drowned. A lawyer calls allegations of parental neglect gossip.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Residents of Silverton Avenue in Tujunga like to think of their street as a children’s haven because of its relative isolation, thick trees and vines, and rambling houses replete with stone fences, hidden gardens and creaking, wooden gates.

As many as 20 youngsters at a time congregate in the street, apparently protected by nearby parents and a sign that warns motorists: “SLOW. Children at Play.” So prevalent are young children in the rustic neighborhood that one former resident, John Winchell, joked that “the legend on this street is, ‘You move in, you get pregnant.’ ”

But tragedy invaded Silverton’s storybook world Wednesday evening when a pair of identical twin toddlers, Tyler and Quinn Gugler, left their disposable diapers by the side of a neighbor’s fenced-in pool and drowned.

How the 2 1/2-year-olds managed to enter the pool--which is enclosed by a cement block wall, a six-foot-tall, self-latching wooden gate and a cyclone fence--remained under investigation Thursday, Los Angeles Police Lt. Bernard Conine said.

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The pool’s owners--81-year-old Donald and Francys Abbott, whose daughters described them as heartbroken over the incident--were watching television and heard nothing until paramedics arrived about 7:30 p.m.

Police were also investigating the possibility of neglect by the twins’ parents, Diane and George Gugler, because neighbors said the twins often wandered near busy streets and into nearby homes without apparent supervision, Conine and detectives said.

One neighborhood father who asked not to be named phoned the Los Angeles County child-abuse hot line just hours before the drowning Wednesday because the Gugler twins had climbed onto his second-story patio for the second time in a week, he said. When the twins climbed on to his patio last Sunday, the homeowner said, another neighbor across the street ran over and stopped them before they fell off a wooden railing.

“I was concerned about my liability as well as their well-being, so I called. I wanted it on record,” said the neighbor, who also called the police. He added that he phoned the county Department of Children’s Services hot line about 2 p.m. and was told that agents were busy, that he would be called back in an hour if there was no emergency.

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The neighbor said he waited until 3 p.m. and then had to leave.

“I got home at 7:30 and they were gone,” he said of the twins. “It’s a shame.”

A department spokeswoman, Lili Ahmadi, said an internal investigation is being conducted to determine whether the man’s call should have been treated as an emergency. The agency unsuccessfully returned the man’s call twice Wednesday afternoon and finally reached him Thursday morning, when he told the caller it was too late, Ahmadi said.

The Guglers were in seclusion Thursday and declined to meet with reporters.

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An attorney and family friend, John L. Simonson, told reporters that the couple were too grief-stricken to comment on what he characterized as unfounded neighborhood gossip. “After the deaths of their babies, they don’t feel compelled to confirm or deny” any allegations, Simonson said at a news conference held outside the Guglers’ home.

“There is one neighbor who has complained” to county child welfare authorities “of some lack of supervision,” he acknowledged. “These reports are as of yet unfounded and the person making them is of unknown character.”

Simonson said the family decided to call the news conference because they were concerned by television reports of the drowning. He did not elaborate, and no one in the family was present.

“The family wants everyone to know how much they love their babies and how devastated they are by the loss,” Simonson said.

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Winchell, another friend of the Guglers who moved from Silverton Avenue a few months ago, said the couple were devoted to their five children, who include a teen-age daughter and another daughter in her early 20s. Children play in the street so often, Winchell said, that it’s always been common practice for parents indoors to feel secure in the knowledge that someone outside was keeping an eye on them all.

Another neighbor, Robert Shoop, said he too allows his 5-year-old son to roam relatively freely because he has come to depend on the neighborhood’s other parents.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children 4 years old or younger in Los Angeles County, although car accidents are a close second, said Billie Weiss, an epidemiologist with the county Health Department who specializes in injury prevention.

Last year, according to a spokesman for the county coroner’s office, 31 children and teen-agers under age 18 drowned--the majority of them toddlers.

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On Wednesday evening, the Gugler twins and their 9-year-old brother, Chance, were playing in the family’s toy-strewn yard when their father left for a jog, according to police reports. Their mother was inside the house. Chance had been told to keep an eye on his brothers, Police Detective Al Ferrand said.

Another detective, Lt. Thomas (Reggie) Maeweather, said that when George Gugler returned from his run about 35 minutes later, the twins were gone and the older boy did not know where they were.

Gugler then searched the neighborhood and found the twins in the pool belonging to the Abbotts, a retired aerospace engineer and his wife who have lived in their house on Grenoble Street since 1944.

The redwood gate that seals off the pool can be opened from the outside, but the latch is 4 1/2 to 5 feet off the ground, beyond a toddler’s reach, Conine said.

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Neighbors, including a lifeguard and a nurse alerted to the emergency by screaming children and the sound of an ambulance, unsuccessfully tried to revive the boys, who were pronounced dead at Verdugo Hills Hospital.

“I was in my living room talking to a neighbor when my son came running in saying, ‘Mommy, mommy! There’s a baby in the pool and we can’t get him out,’ ” said Nadine Castro, the nurse who administered CPR to the twins with neighbor Nicole Chalante, a YMCA lifeguard on maternity leave.

On Thursday, Castro cuddled Chalante’s 10-week-old daughter Ashlynne as they mulled over the tragedy with a third neighbor, Betty Crill. Suddenly, an ice cream truck drove down Silverton Street, its bells playing Brahms’ Lullaby. The women looked at each other uncomfortably.

“Well,” said Castro, as the ice cream truck turned the corner, “they don’t know.”

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Times staff writer Sebastian Rotella contributed to this story.


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