A scene no one should have to see
Today I was at the center of something that should not happen. I
witnessed three men shot on the ground. I did not see the shooting. I
saw it just after. It was right in front of me. I saw the gunman die.
I saw his lifeless body.
He shot a civilian and later a policeman, but I believe that they
will both survive, although the policeman was out of it when taken
into the ambulance.
The other man was lying on his side on the stretcher, slightly
He had been able to run out of the store, shout “I’ve been shot,”
and get help next door. The shooter stayed inside the store for at
least five minutes when he came out and shot the policeman. That’s
when he was gunned down by five or six shots by the accompanying
The whole block of Oak and Anita was a crime scene: six police
cars plus two vans, later ambulances and firetrucks, detectives with
Paramedics tried to revive the shooter, they pumped his chest for
a long time, gave him oxygen. He was young, clean shaven, light blue
shirt, dark pants, maybe 30 years old. What the hell happened to him?
Why did he do this? What a fool.
A beautiful young girl was somehow smack in the middle of this
hell. She was shaking. She may have worked at the store. It’s an herb
shop. Her life was spared today.
At first it was like TV footage of the crazy Middle East. Police
shouted “get down,” hand guns and huge thick shotguns were drawn.
After the shooter was down, the cleaning up, the restoring of order
was so swift, so organized.
We, the bystanders, were astonished, shocked, but totally
unafraid. By 2:25 p.m., the wounded were on route to the hospital.
Crime tape was rolled out around the entire block, chalk marks were
drawn around the shooter’s items, which included a large black piece
of luggage, a duffle bag. Police were asking for witnesses. I told
him about the girl who told me, and the woman who saw two of the
I was there to shop for birthday presents at the Second Reef shop,
which is directly across from the Herb Store. The sales girl saw the
first victim come out calling for help. Then she hid. Then she saw
the police jump up onto their cars and shoot the criminal, shoot him
The woman saw the gunman shoot the cop. She had come to Laguna for
The paramedics folded the shooters arms and placed his ashen limp
body on the stretcher, I did not see blood on his clothes or the
What a lost life, what a waste. It was now time to pick up the
children from school. I was very shook up and very relieved. My town
felt protected again as I saw first hand the excellence and
dedication of these great human beings we call police officers.
Since Wednesday, I have visited the Second Reef shop, and the
young girl was dutifully back at work. And I believe that the woman
will come back to lunch in Laguna.
Chaos was just a block away
“Everybody’s cool, and it can’t happen here.”
Frank Zappa in a 1960s song
I was only a block away when the final shots rang out, trying to
locate the source of the staccato-like bursts. There was a gunfight
going on very close to my place. I wasn’t in combat as a Marine in
the ‘60s, but my training forced me to gravitate toward the action.
That is what they teach you. After growing up on the mean streets of
Wilmington and Harbor City, I was never a stranger to the violence of
gangs and their guns, anyway. Ironically, I had just picked up my old
BMW from the very lot where the suspect lay when I got there.
My police department was outstanding in its response and demeanor.
My curious and shocked fellow citizens as they gawked all uttered
the typical, “How could this happen here?”
They were wrong. It can and did happen here, as “IT” is happening
all over the U.S. and the world. As if Death’s Honesty can be held at
bay forever. As if we aren’t a country in love with and awash in
guns, guns and more guns. Even our president waves missles around,
threatening innocent civilians thousands of miles away. When is
someone going to explain that the mythology of the Wild West should
be put to rest along with these senseless deaths?
The NRA advertisement featuring Charlton Heston says, “You’ll have
to take it from my cold, dead hands.” Well, in Laguna Beach, they
did. But what about that poor store clerk? Try asking the
unbelievably brave officer, that “thin blue line” separating
law-abiding citizens from chaos and anarchy.
Men are the provocateurs for an overwhelming majority of these
wanton acts of violence.
I had a “whacko"" pull a 9-millimeter rifle on me almost 10 years
ago here in Laguna Beach. I tried to back him down with my framing
hammer, only to find out later that his rifle wasn’t loaded. Three
squad cars and a motorcycle officer responded to a 911 call by an
observer within three or four minutes. They didn’t know what to
expect, but there they were ready, willing and able to defend a total
stranger. My response, in retrospect, was not very smart. The Laguna
Beach Police Department did their duty as men of honor. The rifleman?
Turned out he had a long history of violence and continues to be a
thorn in the Laguna department’s side to this day. A year after the
incident, he tried to run me over with his car.
Ask what are you doing, as an individual or group, to assure these
cops and their families will lead a long and happy life? They put
theirs up for grabs in some neighborhoods on an hourly basis, so
don’t they deserve something other than a paycheck? Support handgun
control measures or amendments by contacting your state and federal
legislators. Notify your police department if you see guns being
inappropriately stored or brandished, especially if they are being
kept loaded around children. Call them if you know of individuals who
are threatening the use of weapons. If only one officer’s family is
spared that horrible nightmare, that call is worth it. You owe these
men and women more than money. You may, as I do, owe them your life.
ROGER von BUTOW
Thank you, Laguna police officers
I have much to say, but brevity I am sure is appropriate regarding
[Wednesday’s] attempted armed robbery here in Laguna Beach.
First, I wish the young police officer (wounded in the line of
duty) good health. I am proud of him! I am most happy this police
officer chose to wear his flak vest. I regret the innocent bystander
being wounded also -- in the process of an evil undertaking.
Although a life was taken, I prefer it was he rather than my fine
police officer plus an additional law-abiding victim!
Please give the police officer and all your department my thanks
for continuing your duty! Naturally, I wish the additional victim
As I live between two schools (Laguna Beach High/Anneliese’s
Kindergarten), I noticed and heard the police action and advised new
routes to all parents collecting their children. Hopefully, this
assisted in less traffic congestion, and thus fewer potential victims
of combat fire.
Please be sure to always know that we block captains can quell
rumors Throughout my entire area it started as “three drive-by
murders.” Although the event is very unfortunate, using block
captains will reduce the calling to police.
JONATHAN W. BOSTON
Neighborhood Watch Block
Neighbors are more important than trees
We just received a phone call from a neighbor, an artist and old
friend who lives in our Sarah Thurston Park neighborhood in Laguna
Canyon. The World Series game was over not five minutes and our
neighbor called to talk about “the trees.”
Ah ... the trees. For those of you reading the town paper for the
past two weeks, the fate of the neighborhood’s ancient eucalyptus
trees are at hand. It has been a scene of pure mayhem in our tiny
canyon neighborhood this past week. Neighbors fighting among one
another, angry words, hostility. Trees are becoming more important
than friendships, neighbors and safety.
The trees in our neighborhood were not planted for their beauty,
but with the intention that they would be harvested by the Santa Fe
Railroad for railroad ties. Little did the railroad know that their
wood would twist and crack as it dried, rendering it a useless
endeavor. The ensuing grove created a natural canyon amphitheater,
long since gone from a major flood years back that took out quite a
few of the monsters, nearly destroying a home or two in their path as
By and by, homes and families replaced the ancient trees. Our
small family lives on Fairywood Walk, in the shadow of the last of
the remaining eucalyptus trees. We bought our home nearly 27 years
ago. We live beneath the few surviving eucalyptus trees that inhabit
our immediate neighbors’ property. The trees were not quite so large
27 years ago when we bought our home. Some nice kids wanting to build
a home in our neighborhood have now inherited the problem and expense
of the trees.
We have a unique perspective on what has caused so much ill will
in our neighborhood as of late. We have a perspective from looking
up, in awe and with fear.
Eucalyptus trees are not native to California. Rather they were
brought over to California from Australia during the Gold Rush, their
oil used during the flotation process for the recovery of gold
particles. There are many beautiful varieties of eucalyptus trees.
Eucalyptuses, also known as Kookaburra in folklore, shed an acidic
debris which does not allow plants beneath to grow. The acidic gum
that oozes from their knots and cracks has destroyed the finish on
two of our cars over the years. Eucalyptus trees have notoriously
shallow root systems, so that they begin to drop their limbs as they
grow taller and taller to offset their mass. They are dirty and they
smell. And you know, not everyone likes the smell of eucalyptus. Our
son, for one, is allergic. Eucalyptus oil is a natural expectorant.
So if someone has asthma, serious problems could develop. We know, as
we have given our child dozens of breathing treatments in his short
life. Eucalyptuses are also known by another common name, Widow
Now the fate of the particular trees that have been in the paper
lately belong to a property that has just been sold two lanes down
from ours. Granted these particular trees are a prettier variety than
the ones looming over our home. Yet, these eucalyptuses are enormous,
and they still can become dangerous menaces if not trimmed correctly.
The new family who are building their dream home has been put through
the ringer by our neighborhood and city Design Review Board.
We have even questioned their intent. Are they simply opportunists
looking to cash in on property values? The new neighbors designed
their house to fit amongst the trees and in order to preserve the
existing neighbors view of the hillside. Excavation damaged some
roots of the eucalypti. Therefore, the damaged trees have to go. The
tree huggers of our neighborhood have given the impression to these
folks that we care more about trees than we do our neighbors. We
don’t believe there are any eucalyptus trees on the properties of
those who want to preserve them. They are not coughing up the $5,000
every other year to top and feather them. Yet, they desperately care
about the trees. They care more about the trees than they do their
own neighbors, which we find sad.
We were some of the neighbors that went down to the city and
protested his building permit originally. We did not care much for
this design of his home. We did not feel that it fit into the
character of the neighborhood. Now we wonder what type of character
our neighborhood actually has. A neighborhood is defined by the
qualities of its neighbors, not by its trees.
We told the neighbor that we had had his property in escrow a few
years before but bowed out at the last minute because of “the tree
thing.” Our neighbors had intimidated us so much before the closing
of escrow that we feared that it would be nothing but heartache for
us. In retrospect, we should have bought that property and we should
have cut down every one of those overgrown, scary trees at the close
of escrow, not giving anyone the opportunity to complain if we had
half a brain. But we wanted to preserve the good neighborly feeing
that we felt for our neighbors and friends. What type of friends
would dictate what you should do and not do on your own property?
Yes, in retrospect, we were quite naive. We could have made a nice
chunk of money on that property seeing how property values have
recently exploded and moved to a different neighborhood, with less
dangerous trees and more thoughtful neighbors.
The reason why we are sharing our perspective is that the neighbor
who called us earlier wants us to attend an emergency meeting at the
city this week. He wants us to support the neighborhood by discussing
the plight of the few remaining eucalyptus trees with city officials.
Perhaps he should live in our home for a week, especially during a
rain and wind storm. He could clean up the debris on our roof and in
our yard from our neighbors’ trees after the storm is over. He can
comfort our son who is terrified that a limb will come crashing
through his bedroom ceiling. He could wash the gook from our brand
new car. No. We cannot attend a meeting to support the trees or to
support our neighborhood.
In closing, the above is only offered as a different perspective
to the “tree thing.” What values are truly representative of a
neighborhood, a community? What values are worth preserving?
Important questions worth exploring when considering the fate of a
neighborhood and its trees.
LISA AND JOHN GENESTA
Loss of Victory Walk trees a tragedy
The owners of the property [under construction] on Victory Walk
should be held accountable for the tragic decimation of probably the
last grove of eucalyptus tress in private ownership in Laguna.
Unfortunately, the city has been of little help in seeing to it
that the property was planned in such a way as to allow the owner to
build his homes as planned while also protecting the trees.
So, as I write, the owner has not only endangered trees by
careless, undirected bulldozing, removed others, gotten permission to
take out two more, but has also removed another without permission,
although it is possible that he will be given permission to remove
this one as well because it too has been damaged by the bulldozer.
Thus, this beautiful grove, one of the signs of early, rural
Laguna, has been raped and pillaged, taken from its natural state.
All this has occurred because of the lack of sensitivity of the
developer and the compliance of the architect who did not respond to
the conditions of the property as they found them.
This is a tragic loss not only for a neighborhood, but all of
Laguna, one more sign of the endemic greed and willful selfishness
that is plaguing California. I hope that more can be done than