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O.C.'s 2005 Filled With Tragedy, Levity and Perfect Storms

Times Staff Writer

It began with a leaky dam and ended with a liver transplant scandal. In between, there were disappearing sand dunes, rogue sea lions, controversy in the sheriff’s office, butterfly madness and a birthday party hosted by a mouse.

There were heartening moments and haunting ones, tales of beauty and tales of the bizarre.

Say farewell to 2005 in Orange County:

Soaked and Sliding

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Mother Nature drenched Southern California with rain in January, prompting the evacuation of 2,000 residents below a leaky Prado Dam and setting the stage for landslides, dissolving roads and the largest butterfly migration in memory.

The biggest apparent side effect was a June 1 landslide in Laguna Beach that destroyed or damaged 20 homes in Bluebird Canyon. Laguna voters later approved a local sales-tax hike to help pay for hillside repairs, but it could be many months before residents are able to rebuild.

The winter storms also fueled an explosion of spring wildflowers that attracted millions of painted lady butterflies, delighting sightseers and splattering countless windshields.

Disappearing Dunes

Residents of a Newport Beach neighborhood once known for raising Cain about Dennis Rodman’s rowdy parties said they didn’t hear a thing on the April night when someone bulldozed the sand dunes in front of their oceanfront homes. Police later accused five homeowners who allegedly sought unobstructed views of the ocean, and state officials said the residents would have to pay to restore the dunes.

Identity Crisis

Defying GPS readings, the team formerly known as the Anaheim Angels, the California Angels and the Los Angeles Angels changed its name again to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Outraged fans donned “We Are Not L.A.” T-shirts, and Anaheim officials sued, arguing that the name change violated the Angels’ stadium lease with the city. The case is scheduled for trial Jan. 9.

Flippering Out

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Unruly sea lions invaded Newport Harbor, sinking a sailboat and tormenting locals with their barking and stench. City officials said there wasn’t much they could do about the whiskered critters’ brazenly sunning themselves on moored boats and docks. Endangered-species laws forbid killing or harassing the animals.

Capital Crime

Alejandro Avila was sentenced to death by lethal injection for the 2002 kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion of Stanton. DNA consistent with the girl’s tears was found in Avila’s car and helped convict him. Erin Runnion, Samantha’s mother, said she hoped Avila would “disappear into the abyss of a lifetime in prison where no one will remember you, no one will pray for you and no one will care when you die.”

O.C. Underground

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Transportation officials in Riverside and Orange counties agreed to consider thinning congestion on the Riverside Freeway by building a 12-mile tunnel underneath the Santa Ana Mountains, joining the two counties. Farther south, another contentious transportation proposal called for a toll road to slice through San Onofre State Beach park, angering environmentalists.

Haidl Sequel

After a mistrial in 2004, the son of former Assistant Sheriff Donald Haidl was retried with two of his friends on charges of sexually assaulting an intoxicated 16-year-old girl with a pool cue, juice bottle and cigarette. This time, Gregory Haidl, Kyle Nachreiner and Keith Spann were convicted. The trio, who were juveniles at the time of the crime, are scheduled to be sentenced as adults Jan. 20..

Congressional Shuffle

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President Bush plucked Rep. Christopher Cox from one of the Republican Party’s safest congressional districts, which includes Newport Beach, to head the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. In the ensuing scramble to replace Cox, Republican state Sen. John Campbell won a runoff election, beating Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minutemen civilian border patrol project.

Not-So-Shining Badge

It wasn’t a banner year for Sheriff Michael S. Carona. In December, a longtime supporter endorsed one of Carona’s opponents in next year’s election. The setback followed a string of embarrassments, including the indictment of a former assistant sheriff, a state investigation into accusations that Carona sexually harassed two women (which he denied), and scrutiny over his appointment of friends and political allies as reserve officers. One reserve deputy allegedly flashed his badge and pulled a gun on a group of slow-playing golfers in Chino Hills.

Beach Battles

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Ending a 25-year fight, residents of El Morro Village, a coastal mobile home park north of Laguna Beach, agreed to leave by March 2006. The state plans to incorporate the site into Crystal Cove State Park.

Up the coast, another long-running battle ended when the state Coastal Commission approved plans for 349 luxury homes on a mesa above the Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach. Its decision ended 30 years of debate over the environmentally sensitive site, most of which will be left undeveloped.

Topless Education

The legend of the Shirtless Guy was born at Chapman University when film major Jacob Authier decided to wear nothing above the waist except sunglasses and black paint on his nipples. During more than a year of toplessness, he inspired a 500-person online fan club and rented space on his chest and back for student political campaign slogans and birthday wishes.

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Church Scandal Files

As part of a landmark $100-million settlement with 90 alleged victims of sex abuse by priests, the Diocese of Orange released documents detailing two decades of coverups and stonewalling by church officials. One serial molester was transferred to Tijuana, and another was offered up to $19,000 to quietly leave the priesthood. By August, the diocese repaid most of the money it had borrowed to cover the settlement and projected it would be debt-free by mid-2006.

Disneyland Bash

Fans camped overnight in cars and lined up by the thousands in May as Disneyland kicked off its 50th-anniversary celebration. In the decades since Walt Disney erected his dream atop 160 acres of bulldozed orange and walnut groves, Disneyland revolutionized American entertainment and sold about 79 million pairs of Mickey Mouse ears -- enough to adorn every child in the United States.

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Downtown Dreams

With its budget leaking red ink, Garden Grove resurrected the idea of bringing an Indian casino to Harbor Boulevard, even though supporters conceded that the idea was unlikely to come to fruition.

Meanwhile, neighboring Anaheim approved plans for A-Town, a sequel to Sportstown, which fizzled in the 1990s. The new blueprint calls for a collection of skyscrapers, restaurants, stores and thousands of lofts, condos and apartments surrounding Angel Stadium.

In Santa Ana, developer Mike Harrah won a voter referendum allowing him to build the county’s tallest skyscraper, a 37-story office tower on Broadway. And Yorba Linda officials vowed to “reincarnate the soul” of their turn-of-the-century Main Street with a $300-million condo-and-retail project.

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Crossing Out a Line

After 15 years, transportation officials shelved plans for CenterLine, a light-rail line whose 28-mile route kept shrinking. In its place, officials opted to expand Metrolink and widen highways.

Transplant Trouble

UCI Medical Center’s liver transplant program was shut down in November after allegations that 32 patients died while doctors turned down scores of organs. The Orange hospital’s chief executive was placed on leave, and federal and state officials began an investigation into mismanagement of the program. Lawsuits have been filed in 18 cases.

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