Fall Injures Alleged Tagger
A 19-year-old fractured his spine after apparently jumping about 100 feet from a freeway pylon where he became stranded early Wednesday after painting graffiti, the California Highway Patrol said.
Daniel Supple of Woodland Hills plunged off the San Diego Freeway pylon and onto a steep embankment near the Skirball Center Drive exit about 5:45 a.m., said CHP Officer Karen Faciane.
Doctors at UCLA Medical Center, where Supple was taken, did not release information on whether his spinal injuries will lead to long-term complications, hospital spokeswoman Ruthie Marek said. He was scheduled to undergo surgery for two broken ankles and a broken left arm Wednesday night, Marek said. Supple was listed in fair condition.
A CHP official said law enforcement agencies had been tracking Supple as a suspected graffiti vandal for at least 18 months. Supple had been arrested as a juvenile on graffiti charges but was not convicted, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman said.
CHP investigators said Wednesday that they believe that Supple climbed over the railing of the overpass onto a concrete pylon, probably with the help of an accomplice. But after allegedly spray-painting a tag, “OZIE,” on the bridge, “he saw no way down, so he opted to jump,” Faciane said.
“I don’t know what could be so important that he had to go up there,” she said, “but then again, I’m not 19.”
Supple was arrested at the hospital on suspicion of felony vandalism, a CHP official said.
The “OZIE” tag, which could be plainly seen on the overpass from the freeway, was painted in black and white letters, framed by red flames. Also part of the design was a second, smaller “OZIE YR 97" and a red “78" inside a heart. Supple was born in 1978.
The suspect is believed to have previously caused $68,000 in damage to Caltrans property by spraying “OZIE” in numerous locations, said CHP Officer Armando Perdomo, a spokesman for a CHP graffiti task force.
Perdomo said Supple is believed to have formerly used the moniker “HAWK.”
Supple graduated from Stoneridge Preparatory School last year. He had transferred there from Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, where one of his classmates was Kevin O’Shaughnessy.
O’Shaughnessy, now 18 and still a close friend of the suspect, said Supple was intelligent and an outgoing athlete. “He did things like BMX biking because it was a thrill, but he is very levelheaded, always thinking,” said O’Shaughnessy, 18, of Tarzana. “He had a lot going on. He thought a lot about everything.”
O’Shaughnessy said Supple had a longtime interest in drawing and was often seen sketching human and animal figures. He also was interested in stylized lettering .
Maria Arnold, director of Stoneridge Preparatory School, said she remembered Supple as a smart and energetic boy who loved basketball and “art, especially fancy lettering with colorful pictures--they didn’t look like the kinds of graffiti you usually see.”
Arnold said she took a liking to Supple even though “he wasn’t an angel” because he was “always lovely, polite and full of life.” Often when she went to school basketball games, she recalled, “He would say, ‘This basket is for you, Mrs. Arnold!’ and he would make it. That was the kind of kid he was.”
The only trouble that Arnold can remember Supple getting into was before his graduation, when he and his friends draped toilet paper all over the school. “I caught them and they cleaned it up right away,” she said. “Like most young people, he did things that may not be appropriate, but T.P.-ing the school, that was just a joke.”
Supple attended Santa Monica City College after graduating from Stoneridge but left that school and got a job as a driver for a car messenger service, O’Shaughnessy said. He had been unemployed in recent months, his friend said.
“I saw him two weeks ago, and he was telling me he was finally starting to get his life situated,” O’Shaughnessy said. “He just had regular kid problems, like not knowing who he was.”
LAPD Det. Craig Rhudy said that all freeway bridges and signs--particularly the San Diego Freeway in West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley--are popular sites for taggers because of their visibility.
“Higher places allow more people to see it, which means more recognition and notoriety,” Rhudy said. “It also stays up there for a longer time because it’s harder for the people who paint over it to get to.”
When O’Shaughnessy was asked why he thought his friend risked climbing onto a freeway pylon, he said, “I think because he enjoys the thrill, and for the art aspect. It was like a roller coaster.”