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Screenwriter May Have Been Driving Wrong Way

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Possibly disoriented from more than a dozen hours on the road, Gary Devore may have been driving in the wrong direction on the Antelope Valley Freeway before plunging headlong into an unprotected section of the California Aqueduct.

That scenario is among several that have emerged in the investigation by the California Highway Patrol into the death of the Carpinteria screenwriter.

“It’s one of the theories they are looking at,” said CHP spokesman Rhett Price. He declined to discuss the theory further, or to provide any information about the other scenarios under consideration.

The theory that Devore somehow ended up driving southbound in the northbound lanes of the freeway--perhaps after a stop for gas or something to drink--could explain how his white Ford Explorer ended up at the bottom of the aqueduct in Palmdale while leaving no visible damage to the guardrail on the bridge.

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The west shoulder of the northbound lanes of the Antelope Valley Freeway offers an unobstructed route to the murky water about 30 feet below. It is the only way Devore, while headed toward home, could have driven into the aqueduct without going over--or through--a guardrail or protective fencing. The theory is consistent with the location of Devore’s submerged Explorer. Such an accident is not without precedent.

In February 1997, an Acton man was killed, apparently after driving his motorcycle in the wrong direction on the Antelope Valley Freeway and into the canal, said Bonnie Brown, a technician with the state Department of Water Resources.

Christopher Allen, who had been missing for several days, was found floating in the aqueduct by his father. His body was found near where Devore’s was discovered. Devore’s body lay hidden for more than a year before an e-mail tip from an amateur sleuth led divers to the site last week.

The tipster, Douglas Crawford, read a newspaper article marking the anniversary of Devore’s disappearance and said he was reminded of the case of an Orange County woman who went missing and was later found to have crashed her car into the California Aqueduct. Crawford hypothesized that Devore may have suffered a similar fate, and using information from articles about his disappearance, set out to retrace his route.

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When Crawford came to the spot where the Antelope Valley Freeway crosses the aqueduct he got out of his car and began to search the area. There, he said, he found debris from a white Ford Explorer--the same make and model Devore was driving when he disappeared.

Crawford contacted authorities and Devore’s publicist with his findings, prompting the search. Saying that he doesn’t want to spend any more time on the case, and that he fears authorities are suspicious of his motives, Crawford has hired a lawyer and has refused a request to be interviewed by Los Angeles County homicide detectives.

Lt. Don Bear said there is no evidence that Devore’s death was the result of a crime.

“We’re just trying to cover all the bases we can and be thorough,” Bear said. “If [Crawford] doesn’t want to talk to us that’s his prerogative.”

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Authorities have said publicly that they believe Devore died in an accident. Officers from the CHP’s special Major Accident Investigation Team are using the screenwriter’s Explorer in an attempt to re-create the scenario that resulted in his death. Price, the CHP spokesman, said it would probably be at least several weeks before a cause is determined.

Devore, 55--who had screen credits for “Dogs of War” and “Running Scared"--was returning to his Santa Barbara County home from a trip to Santa Fe, when he disappeared in the early morning hours of June 28, 1997.

His disappearance spurred several theories among friends and family. Some believed he was carjacked and killed for his trendy Ford Explorer. Others thought he had decided to drop out of sight for awhile but would one day return.

Times staff writer Boris Yaro contributed to this story.

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