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Neighbors Mourn ‘a Good Kid’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The cozy, sun-dappled street where Cherie La Motte grew up and lived with her parents is the kind of place that gives the suburbs a good name.

It was here, on Avenida Balita, that the 25-year-old La Motte learned to swim and drive, baby-sat the neighbor’s kids, joined in Fourth of July block parties and set a goal of becoming a physical therapist.

So when she was killed Thursday in a roller-coaster accident while working at Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park, La Motte was mourned by longtime friends and neighbors who struggled to reconcile her sweet, shy nature with the tragic, violent way she died.

“She was the one who, if there was a lost pet lying on the ground, would give it food and water,” said Alan Neibauer, 32, who was raised in a house across the street from the La Motte family. “She was basically just a good kid.”

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According to neighbors, the La Mottes had lived in Valencia for at least two decades. Cherie’s father, Richard, is a respected movie costume designer whose credits include “Rambo III,” “Hanoi Hilton,” and “The Wind and the Lion.”

Her mother, Patricia, is an agent in the Valencia ReMax real estate office. A brother, Jason, a year or two older, lives in San Francisco, neighbors said. But Cherie had always remained at home with her parents, as far as they knew.

She and her mother were “extremely close,” said Kim Baker, 17, one of the children Cherie used to baby-sit.

“They did everything together. You would never see them apart,” Kim said.

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La Motte attended the local public schools, Placerita Junior High and Hart High School, from which she was graduated in 1989. At Hart, she did not draw much attention to herself or participate heavily in school activities, according to the school principal.

In the brief sketch she wrote to accompany her senior yearbook photograph, she joked about “barely passing” and sleeping through economics class. And she reminisced about “straw fights at Carl’s Jr.” and trips to Magic Mountain.

After her graduation from high school, she attended College of the Canyons off and on for five years until a year ago. Kim and Neibauer said she was studying to become a physical therapist. Fulfilling another rite of passage for Valencia youth, she began working as a full-time seasonal employee at Magic Mountain four summers ago.

“It’s a fun job to have. You get to interact with kids from all over,” said Neibauer, who himself did a six-year stint at the amusement park. “Cherie was very quiet but she also loved being around people.”

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La Motte’s black Ford Escort was parked in front of her family’s home Friday. The neighbors with whom she had shared good times tried to be there for her family in their time of crisis and quietly shooed reporters away from the La Motte family’s front steps.

Down the block, two little girls danced gleefully in front of a sprinkler, unaware of the sorrow that had visited their street.


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