A Carson teen-ager outraged by the suicide of his 14-year-old brother was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of ordering two other youths, whom he believed responsible for the boy's death, to leap from a 200-foot San Pedro cliff.
The two victims survived the fall and one managed to crawl to a nearby home, where Christmas party-goers formed a search party to find the second youth, who was semiconscious on the surfside rocks.
Los Angeles police said David Salanoa, 18, and an unidentified teen-ager held knives to the throats of Rodel Panis, 16, and Evan Rivera, 22, on Monday evening and ordered them to jump from the cliff.
Terrified, Rivera and Panis climbed a four-foot chain-link fence and stepped over the edge of the rocky precipice, which drops 30 to 50 feet to a line of brush and then has a 150-foot drop to the coastline.
Both were listed in fair condition Tuesday afternoon in the intensive care unit of County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
Harbor-area Detective Ira Beaty said he does not know why Salanoa accused Rivera and Panis of being responsible for his young brother's suicide. Rivera evidently was present Sunday, along with several other people, when the boy shot himself in the head, Beaty said.
Salanoa and Rivera are believed to be members of the same Carson-area gang as Salanoa's younger brother, Beaty said. The detective said he does not know if Panis also is a gang member.
Panis suffered a broken jaw, dislocated arm and broken ribs from the fall. Leaving a trail of blood still visible on the rocks Tuesday afternoon, he managed to walk 250 yards in the dark along the rocky shore and then climbed a steep cliff path to seek help. Meanwhile, Rivera remained semiconscious with head and internal injuries at the base of the cliff.
Panis reached a home on Paseo del Mar, near the entrance to the path, where a San Pedro family was welcoming friends and relatives for a Christmas party. Panis rang the house's doorbell and was helped by the horrified party-goers.
"My mother answered the door about 6:30 at night thinking it was just somebody else coming for the party," said Adam Andrade, 15. "But there was this guy standing there with all this blood and he looks at her and says, 'Can you call 911, please? My friend's still down there.' "
With his jaw broken and his tongue severely cut, Panis had to struggle to make the crowd understand that there was another youth at the bottom of the cliff.
"At first when she opened the door and we saw him there, I thought it was some kind of sick joke," said Christian Kirov, 15. "Then I thought he said he'd gotten jumped and beat up."
Within a few minutes, six people from the house set out down the pitch-black path to look for Rivera. They found him lying on the rocks a few blocks north of Point Fermin, shivering and only dimly aware of his rescuers.
County firefighters had to use a helicopter to lift Rivera from the rocks. Party-goers stayed with the frightened man throughout the nearly two-hour rescue operation.
Although police said Salanoa is suspected of using a knife to force the two over the cliff, Panis told his rescuers that he was threatened with a gun, though he never saw one.
"He said two guys took his money and told him to jump or he'd be shot," Andrade said. "I think I'd take the bullet before I'd jump off those cliffs."