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O.C. News: Stabbing at the Shark Club, Mother of Deceased Writes About Internet Bullies, Laughing Gas Related Car Crash, Laguna Hills Dog Hoarders

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Police cadet stabbed outside Costa Mesa nightclub

By ALYSSA DURANTY AND CLAUDIA KOERNER / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

COSTA MESA – A Placentia police cadet was stabbed in the stomach while trying to break up a fight outside the Shark C

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lub early Sunday morning, police and a witness said.

The stabbing occurred just after midnight outside the bar, 841 Baker St., after two men argued, police Sgt. Brent McKinley said.

Brittany Eck, 25, a waitress at the club, said she was outside smoking when the stabbing occurred. The men began fighting, which forced Eck up against the wall outside the club, she said.

“I tried to push them off me,” Eck said. “Next thing I know I heard someone yell ‘I’ve been stabbed.’ ”

The victim fell to the ground after the assault and Eck said she tried to apply pressure to the wound before police arrived.

Police said the victim was stabbed once in the abdomen and is in stable condition.

Eck said the victim was trying to break up the fight between two other individuals, claiming to be a police officer. The victim turned out to be a police cadet.

Patrons of the club were kept inside while the police investigated and could not leave for about an hour, Eck said.

Two Santa Ana men, 23-year-old Cesar “Junior” Dionicio and 26-year-old Erik Barona, were arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.

 

O.C. woman writes about torture by trolls

By GREG HARDESTY / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

LADERA RANCH – The book began as therapy, a ritual through which Lesli Catsouras could work out her feelings of despair, horror, anger.

But now that it’s written the Ladera Ranch mother is consumed by a fresh round of anxiety.

“My book has been such a huge part of me for so long, I’m afraid to let it go,” Catsouras says.

“At times it was all I had to get me through the rough days,” she adds. “Although I feel like I’m doing the right thing, it scares me to death.”

For Catsouras, “the right thing” means going public with a wrenching account of losing her 18-year-old daughter, Nikki, in a violent 2006 car crash — and how details of Nikki’s death, including grisly photos and news accounts – became a source of entertainment for anonymous Web users, as well as incalculable pain for her family.

The tale of her journey, in a just-published memoir “Forever Exposed: The Nikki Catsouras Story,” is about loss, grief and the larger fight against insidious forces in cyberspace.

It’s also an act of courage.

Now that she’s published her book, Catsouras knows the trolls will be back. The usually anonymous online commenters who harassed her family and turned Nikki’s death into an international news story have never totally gone away. And they figure to step up their harassment once they learn that she’s written a book about a form of pain that wasn’t possible two decades ago.

The mission, she adds, is worth it.

“I hope this book will send a message to anyone who has taunted or bullied someone online, or is thinking about it. (When you do that) you don’t just harm one person… you can destroy an entire family.

“I’m hoping that with more awareness, things can change,” Catsouras, 46, says.

“When you say things online, you don’t see the consequences.”

GRIEF AND HORROR

If losing a child is the worst pain imaginable, the Catsouras family has had to endure that and more.

Nikki was killed the afternoon of Oct. 31, 2006, on the 241 toll road. She’d taken off in her father’s Porsche and, while driving at speeds of up to 100 mph, she clipped another car and lost control.

The Porsche flew across the dirt median and into oncoming lanes before slamming into an unmanned toll booth in Lake Forest, killing Nikki instantly. Still strapped into the driver seat, she nearly was decapitated.

That was the start of the family’s horror.

In the next few weeks, as the Catsouras’ were trying to cope with Nikki’s death, photos of Nikki’s remains began circulating online.

Some of the highly graphic images – leaked by people who worked for the California Highway Patrol — were accompanied by messages that disparaged the dead teenager and her family. A fake MySpace page was created, which at first looked like a tribute to Nikki but led viewers to the horrific images with a click of the mouse.

The CHP eventually accepted responsibility for the leak. And the leak eventually led to recently settled litigation that redefined law in California as it relates to death images and the privacy rights of surviving relatives.

For Catsouras and her family, the road from Halloween 2006 to today has been anything but easy.

Lesli’s husband, Christos Catsouras, 48, recently suffered a mild heart attack. His doctor says stress over Nikki’s death and the family’s crusade to get her images off the Internet – and the harassment from strangers – contributed to his ailment.

Nikki’s youngest sister, Kira, 13, still is forbidden from going online.

“My parents don’t want to run the risk of me seeing them,” Kira says of the pictures.

Older sisters Danielle, 21, and Christiana, 19, are extremely cautious about accidentally running across the photos. And in the early stages of the ordeal, Danielle, then a high school sophomore, left school to be home-schooled when rumors spread that pictures of Nikki would turn up in her locker.

A former real estate agent turned real estate broker, Christos saw his income plummet when he, too, stayed offline after the images went viral in late 2006. He and Lesli have spent thousands of dollars trying to get the photos permanently deleted from the Internet with the help of a private firm, Reputation.com.

Of course, that’s only part of their misery. The family still grieves Nikki, a quirky, free-spirited teenager who was planning to study photography in college.

CATHARSIS

Lesli Catsouras began writing her thoughts in a journal on the anniversary of Nikki’s death.

“It was a place for me to channel my grief, to get through the circumstances that, at the time, were too painful to bear in silence,” she says. “Instead of yelling and screaming I would write. And that would get all the emotions out of me. I found it to be very cathartic. I would recommend it to anyone, especially to someone who has lost a child.”

Writing also was a place for Catsouras to work through her frustration over depictions of Nikki and her family that she found not only inaccurate, but vicious.

Some Internet trolls wrote that Nikki was a spoiled rich kid who deserved her fate. Others slammed Christos for supposedly letting Nikki drive his car, even though she took it without his or Lesli’s permission.

Other nameless Internet posters spread misinformation that Nikki had been drinking, when in fact she hadn’t. Traces of cocaine were found in her system but she was not high when she got behind the wheel.

For Lesli and Christos Catsouras, the photos and rumors were a grisly and ugly sideshow that distracted attention from what they see as the real egregious act: the CHP improperly releasing accident-scene photos.

Roughly half of “Forever Exposed,” which at about 88,000 words is a standard-length work of non-fiction, details the Catsouras’ battle with the CHP and Internet trolls.

They insist the lawsuit wasn’t an attempt at a money grab, and say that their cut of a settlement reached in January — $2.375 million — already has been eaten up by legal and other fees stemming from their attempt to rid the Internet of the images.

As for her book, Lesli appears shocked when asked if she hopes to make money off it. She says a portion of proceeds will go to charity.

“I’m not preoccupied with how well it will do,” Catsouras says.

“Forever Exposed” is available only as an online book (for $8.99); a paperback version will be available shortly, Catsouras says.

THE REAL NIKKI

‘Forever Exposed’ is structured in alternating chapters in both Lesli’s voice and the voice of her husband, although Lesli wrote everything.

After a brief prologue, the book starts with the day Nikki fled in the Porsche, and more or less proceeds chronologically, with Catsouras filling in details of Nikki’s life, including her brush with death when doctors found a largely inoperable brain tumor when she was 8.

In the book, Catsouras writes that the brain tumor accounted for some of Nikki’s erratic behavior as a teen, including her experimenting with cocaine. One time, cocaine caused a psychotic reaction that forced Nikki to be hospitalized for 72 hours. But Nikki, contrary to some Internet posters, was no party girl. Instead, Catsouras writes about a hippy-like teen who loved thrift stores and to help the homeless.

Nikki’s sister, Danielle, says she’s happy her mother wrote the book.

“It was good therapy for her,” says Danielle, an aspiring musician who works part time as a bookkeeper. “I think the people who have bullied our family should read this so they can see Nikki as a person, and not just as an image.”

Christiana, a working student, says she can’t read the book.

“It’s too emotional for me,” she says. “I can’t get past the first page.”

For Lesli Catsouras, finishing the book has left her feeling restless.

She and her husband, however, have a project to keep them busy. They are working on getting a law passed in California that would make it illegal for first responders to release accident photos to the public. The CHP and other law enforcement agencies have policies in place that ban the practice, but it’s not technically a crime – yet.

“If anything, I hope our story will spread the word about cyber bullying and encourage others to be kind online,” Catsouras says.

“Forever Exposed” can be purchased as an ebook through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble BN.com or through Lesli Catsouras’ website, www.foreverexposed.com

Contact the writer: 714-796-6704 or ghardesty@ocregister.com

 

Man gets jail for deadly crash after inhaling laughing gas

By LARRY WELBORN / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

SANTA ANA – A Santa Ana man sat somberly in a wheelchair Monday as he was sentenced to a year in jail for killing one friend and injuring two others in a fiery car crash while he was under the influence of laughing gas.

Superior Court Judge Gerald Johnston also placed Jose Luis Gomez Nava, 22, on five years of probation after Nava pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated with sentencing enhancements for causing injuries to more than one victim.

Johnston issued the sentence against the recommendation from Deputy District Attorney Nancy Hayashida, who argued that Nava chose to engage in “extremely risky, extremely dangerous, extremely aggravated” behavior by inhaling nitrous oxide while driving with a carload of passengers. Hayashida said Nava should be sent to prison for more than a year.

The judge acknowledged that the case was troubling for societal reasons, because it involved driving under the influence, which causes the deaths of so many young people.

But Johnston also said deterrence was not a factor, because Nava was seriously injured in the crash with burns and brain trauma, faces “a lifetime of struggle to recover,” and will likely never drive again.

Nava was speeding in excess of 80 mph in a 45 mph zone southbound on Fairview Street toward MacArthur Boulevard in Santa Ana at about 7:40 p.m. Nov. 20, 2010, while inhaling laughing gas from a balloon, according to prosecutors.

He dropped his head and released his hands from the steering wheel, which caused him to lose control of his car, prosecutors said. The car shot over the median and crashed into a pine tree. The impact caused the car to burst into flames.

Steve Gomez, 15, who was riding in the front passenger seat, was killed instantly when the impact forced the engine into the passenger compartment of the car. Elvira Orejel, 18, a passenger in the back seat, was extricated by Santa Ana police officers and taken to UCI Medical Center for treatment for a broken leg. Roman Gomez, 19, also riding in the back seat, climbed out of the car on his own and was treated at a hospital for abrasions.

Contact the writer: lwelborn@ocregister.com or 714-834-3784

Mother, son charged with abusing, abandoning 30 dogs

By SEAN EMERY/ THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

LAGUNA HILLS – A mother and son are facing misdemeanor charges after authorities say they abused 30 dogs before leaving the canines abandoned in a Laguna Hills park.

Flordeliza Aguillo Escano, 59, of Rancho Santa Margarita has been charged with animal abandonment, mistreatment and neglect, while James Francis Alambra, 26, has been charged with animal abandonment and mistreatment, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Authorities allege that Escano and Alambra drove a truck into a parking lot at San Remo Park on May 20 and unloaded two crates, one that contained 14 dogs, the other than contained 16 dogs. Prosecutors say the dogs were stacked atop one another in the crates, without food or water.

After leaving the crates next to trees near the roadway, prosecutors said the mother and son attempted to leave in the truck, but the vehicle wouldn’t start.

A woman picked the two up in another vehicle, but investigators do not believe that she knew about the abandoned canines. Escano and Alambra left their truck at the park, authorities said.

Park visitors called the Orange County Sheriff’s Department after finding the crates. Authorities say the dogs showed signs of neglect, including matted fur and ingrown toenails. Animal Control officials indicated that the dogs ranged in age from 6 months to 6 years old.

Alambra reportedly told investigators that his mother appeared to be hoarding the dogs and that he was taking them from her residence to an animal shelter, but claimed he was forced to abandon them when his car broke down.

If convicted, Escano faces up to 18 months in jail, while Alambra faces up to a year in jail, according to the DA’s office.

Staff writer Erika J. Ritchie contributed to this report.


 


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