A La Cañada Flintridge family learned earlier this week two individuals found Nov. 9 inside a burned vehicle off Mulholland Highway in Malibu, where the 97,620-acre Woolsey fire raged with only 47% containment as of Wednesday — were likely relatives of theirs.
As of Tuesday, officials with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau were investigating the deaths of what appeared to be two adults. Investigators were still looking into what caused the vehicle to become consumed by flames, according to a release issued Monday.
“Detectives believe that the driver may have become disoriented while evacuating the area and the vehicle was overcome by fire,” the release said. “This investigation continues as we process all of the evidence collected from the scene.”
With the identification process still ongoing La Cañada resident and owner of Berge’s Sandwiches Queeny Yeghiaian said she’d learned from relatives the vehicle’s occupants may have been sister-in-law Shushan Bakalian, who lived in unincorporated Malibu, and son Anthony Bakalian.
Another son, Steven Bakalian, has been pressed by family members for details but so far has not been able to provide a context for that day’s events, Yeghiaian added.
“We really can’t tell what happened,” she said. “We can’t keep questioning the older son because he’s in a daze.”
Yeghiaian’s daughter, MaryAnn Kaufmann, tried Monday to piece together what she’d heard from family members who contacted her with news of the fire. She’d heard her cousins had been trying to evacuate their elderly mother from the fire and that Anthony’s car may possibly have been involved in an accident during the attempt.
Kaufman said the family was still waiting for the results of the investigation and have not yet made plans for memorial services. She described Shushan Bakalian as a widow who’d lost her husband a few years ago and was living alone.
“That aunt was one of my favorites. She had the cutest little laugh, so jovial,” the La Cañada resident recalled. “And she was as smart as the day is long — it’s horrible, just horrible.”
Kaufman recalled her cousin Anthony as the kind of person who “had personality to spare.”
Sarah Ardalani, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner, said staff were still working on analyzing the remains for a final identification and estimated those identities could be released by Thursday or Friday of this week.
Anyone with information about the incident is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500. Anonymous tips may be directed to the “Crime Stoppers’ hotline at (800) 222-TIPS (8477).