Settlement Reached in Death at Christo Project

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Environmental artist Christo reached a settlement Thursday with the family of a Camarillo woman killed by one of the giant umbrellas he erected in the Tejon Pass last year.

The parties to the settlement declined to disclose dollar amounts or other details, but Christo's Chicago-based lawyer, Scott Hodes, said: "It has been settled to the satisfaction of everyone involved.

"This ends the possibility of all possible future litigation on this matter," he added.

The project was insured by the artist for at least $2 million, according to officials in Kern County, where the accident occurred.

Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude Christo-Javacheff, were present for the settlement conference held in Los Angeles. Also present was Michael Mathews, whose wife, Lori Rae Keevil-Mathews, was 33 when one of the 19-foot, 488-pound umbrellas on a rocky slope toppled onto her during strong winds last Oct. 26.

"The settlement was amicable and at the end everyone shook hands," said Los Angeles attorney Darold Peiper, who represented the Mathews family.

Also included in the settlement is Mathews' daughter from a previous marriage, who was 8 at the time of the accident, Peiper said.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Michael Mathews said his attorney told him not to discuss the terms of the settlement, but agreed that "it was to everyone's satisfaction."

He said he appreciated Christo and his wife attending the meeting. "They have always been very nice," he said.

Christo, who could not be reached for comment, had said he would dedicate to the dead woman a book and film about his art project, in which 1,760 of the custom-made yellow umbrellas were erected for 19 miles along Interstate 5 in the pass about 65 miles north of Los Angeles. A companion project erected 1,340 similar blue umbrellas in Japan, but that, too, was marred by an accidental death.

The exhibition was supposed to be on view for three weeks but after the accident, it was dismantled four days early.

A Kern County coroner's report concluded that one umbrella, torn from its concrete foundation by high winds, flew across a road, struck Mathews in the back and pushed her into nearby rocks. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mathews, who worked for an agent for State Farm Insurance in Camarillo, had a rare, incurable illness, pheochromocytoma, which caused serious imbalances in her hormonal system.

Two years before the accident, at the time of her marriage, Mathews told her husband she probably had only about 10 years to live, her husband said after her death.

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