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TimesOC: Alleged sexual abuse by former Mission Viejo High substitute subject of suit

"Sign up for our TimesOC newsletter" and the L.A. Times logo over the Huntington Beach Pier at sunset.
TimesOC, a newsletter about Orange County, is published Wednesdays and Fridays.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. It’s Wednesday, March 30. I’m Carol Cormaci, bringing you today’s TimesOC newsletter with the latest roundup of news and events.

A dispiriting tale of an Orange County school district allegedly dragging its heels when alerted 20 years ago to suspected sexual abuse on the part of a substitute teacher was brought to light over the weekend when Los Angeles Times reporters Laura J. Nelson and Hannah Fry reported about a lawsuit recently filed against Saddleback Valley Unified School District.

In interviews with Nelson and Fry, the plaintiffs, two former students at Mission Viejo High School called their lawsuit “a last-ditch attempt” to force the district to take their concerns seriously and bar Jim Harris, the husband of Mission Viejo drama teacher Kathy Cannarozzi-Harris, from contact with teenagers.

“The lawsuit accuses Harris of grooming them — building their trust and welcoming them into his home — before touching them inappropriately in the mid-1990s,” according to the story.

When interviewed by The Times, Harris maintained his innocence and said one of his accusers “seemed to have a very vivid imagination.”

In 2005, after the women involved in the lawsuit made another plea to the district to get Harris off campus, he lost his job as a substitute teacher, according to the story. But that didn’t prevent him from interacting with Mission Viejo students as he continued to work with his wife on the school’s theater productions, “even after parents complained in 2016 that he was photographing girls in a dressing room,” the article states.

In speaking to a school district official, the reporters learned that the drama teacher and her husband have been at the center of unspecified “current allegations” for their behavior since last summer and fall. District spokeswoman Wendie Hauschild told Nelson and Fry Cannarozzi-Harris has not been on the Mission Viejo campus during the investigation.

Yara Wilde, 42, shown at her home, is a party to the lawsuit involving a Mission Viejo drama teacher and her husband.
Yara Wilde, 42, pictured at her home in the Pacific Northwest on March 21. She says that from her sophomore year of high school through her senior year, she was groomed by a married couple and that she was sexually abused by the husband. She is suing the school district.
(Kristina Barker / For The Los Angeles Times)

MORE NEWS

— Socorro Juarez is determined to convince unvaccinated O.C. residents to get the jab. So much so, the 57-year-old Santa Ana resident sets out weekly in a costume fashioned from paper and plaster that looks like a vaccination syringe. While dancing to loud music, Juarez hands out fliers in English and Spanish with details on where and when to get COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters.

Socorro Juarez, left, and Margarita Ochoa from Latino Health Access, dress in costume at a mobile vaccine site.
Socorro Juarez, left, and Margarita Ochoa from Latino Health Access, dress in costume at a mobile vaccine site at El Indio Botanas y Cerveza in Downtown Santa Ana.
(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

— Orange County authorities on Saturday said they were recommending hate crime charges against a woman who allegedly yelled antisemitic comments at a man who tried to get her to remove a swastika armband she was wearing in a Laguna Woods community center.

— Three people died Monday morning in Anaheim after their car crashed into a brick wall on Harbor Boulevard and erupted into flames, according to police.

An investigation is underway after three people were killed in a fiery crash in Anaheim on Monday.
An investigation is underway after three people were killed in a fiery crash in Anaheim on Monday. Patrol officers were at the intersection of Harbor Boulevard and La Palma Avenue at 1:58 a.m. when a 2021 Mercedes Benz rocketed past them, turning east on La Palma to southbound Harbor when the driver apparently lost control of the vehicle, Anaheim police Sgt. Jacob Gallacher said.
(OnScene.TV)

— A body camera video released by officials Thursday shows the moments before deputies from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department fatally shot a man holding a knife after an hours-long standoff in Lake Forest on Feb. 10.

LIFE & LEISURE

O.C. residents ran for cover Monday as a Pacific storm system moved across Southern California, bringing up to 2 inches of rain in some cities and causing mild debris flows in hillside areas hit by the Bond fire. The rain was intense enough in Buena Park that Knott’s Berry Farm officials closed early Monday.

A man walks past the Hotel Laguna with a tattered umbrella following a torrential rain squall Monday.
A man walks up Coast Highway past the Hotel Laguna with a tattered umbrella following a torrential rain squall that passed over Laguna Beach on Monday morning.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

— Spring is definitely in the air at the Urban Forest in Huntington Beach’s Central Park. Thousands of California poppies are in bloom at the site, a sea of orange for anyone to enjoy at no charge. Go take a look while they’re in their glory!

A field of California poppies is in full bloom at the Huntington Beach Urban Forest on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

SPORTS

— Brooke Benton, a 6-year-old from Huntington Beach who has an Instagram account @skatebrookie with nearly 3,000 followers, has already started competing in California Amateur Skateboard League events. The kindergartner says one of her goals is to compete in the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Brooke Benton, 6, skates at Edison Park Skate Spot.
Brooke Benton, 6, skates at Edison Park Skate Spot in her hometown of Huntington Beach on March 23.
(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

OBITUARY

— Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, a 1990 graduate of Laguna Beach High School, died Friday in Bogata, Colombia. Emergency services had responded to a call about a patient with chest pains in a hotel who was unresponsive when they tried to give aid, Bogota health officials said Saturday. Hawkins, 50, was declared dead at the scene, they said. In the wake of his death, the band canceled all upcoming tour dates.

Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters attends the 36th Annual Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony on Oct. 30, 2021.
Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters attends the 36th Annual Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in October 2021. He died at the age of 50 while on tour with the band in Bogata, Colombia.
(Photo by Arturo Holmes / Getty Images for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

STAY IN TOUCH

If you have a memory or story about Orange County, we would love to read it (please keep your submission to 100 words or less).

We want your help in making this the best newsletter it can be. Send your memory of life in O.C., news tips or comments to carol.cormaci@latimes.com or benjamin.brazil@latimes.com.