Hikers Subdue Attacker Near Palm Springs

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

A Canadian family’s peaceful hike into Tahquitz Canyon turned into a bloody fight for survival, authorities said, when a transient sprung up from behind rocks, began throwing rocks at them and threatened to throw one of them off the mountain.

As they were being struck, one of the family members tackled the man. The group forced the transient onto the ground, heaved rocks on him, tied him up and ran for their lives, police said.

The suspect, identified by Palm Springs police as James Toney, 40, a local drifter, pleaded not guilty Thursday in an Indio courtroom to four felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon and was held on $100,000 bail.


According to police, Toney, wearing only sweatpants and shoes, jumped from behind the rocks and yelled “Get off my mountain!” at the family.

“We thought we were going to die,” Danielle Ford, 25, said of Tuesday’s incident in the popular canyon that leads into the San Jacinto Mountains, just a few miles southwest of this winter resort’s downtown district.

Ford and her husband, Darren, 26, of Saskatchewan, were visiting his parents, Ronald and Beverly Ford, who live in Palm Desert. The four hiked Tuesday to Josie Shay Vista Park, an overlook about 900 feet above the Coachella Valley, and had stopped for a drink of water when they were attacked, police said.

“He told us, ‘Now we’re going to have some fun. One of you is getting thrown off this mountain,’ ” Danielle Ford said. Toney threw several rocks at the group--knocking Ronald Ford, 56, to the ground and striking Darren Ford in the head--and shoved Beverly Ford, 54, to the ground, police said.

Toney lifted a “basketball-size rock” and started to throw it toward Beverly Ford’s head when her son tackled him, police said.

“We all got on top of him and tried to subdue him,” Danielle Ford said. “We hit him quite hard. At that point, I said: ‘If he’s not unconscious, we’re not getting off this mountain.’ ”


The family held Toney down and struck him in the head and legs with rocks, tied his hands with his sweatpants, threw his shoes into the brush and ran down the canyon, according to police.

They encountered another tourist, Robert Sayre, 53, who drove them to a nearby hospital. “They were covered with blood,” Sayre said. “They were hysterical.”

Ronald Ford was the most seriously injured, suffering broken ribs and a cut on his head. Darren Ford was bitten on the chest and suffered a head wound.

Toney was treated for head and leg injuries, released from the hospital and arrested by police. “They banged him up pretty good,” Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Rick Erwood said of the family’s defense against their assailant.

Palm Springs Police Officer Dan Clary said: “We have some unstable people who live up there. A lot of times, it’s pretty dangerous.”

But, he said, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”