Streetlight flasher still at large
Could you recognize your brother if he was dangling naked from a street light?
A South Lake Tahoe man thought he recognized the person hanging above Stateline on New Year’s Eve in a picture in Monday’s Tribune.
Convinced it was his brother, who lives in Palmdale, Calif., the South Lake Tahoe man told the police where they could find him.
The South Lake Tahoe Police Department had the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office locate the Palmdale man and determine if he was the pole-climbing fugitive.
“He almost fit the description,” said Sgt. Les Scott of the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. “He didn’t have a tattoo and we were expecting him to have some abrasions and cuts on his legs and he didn’t.”
The man, who had short blond hair and a tattoo on his upper arm, climbed the street light just after midnight Jan. 1. He stayed there for 45 minutes. An ambivalent crowd of 50,000 both cheered and threw things at the man while he stripped to his boxer shorts and played to an increasingly wild audience.
He then swung from the traffic signal, which fell to the street.
Police had cleared the area below the streetlight, but some of the crowd became violent when it appeared the man also might fall. After police were satisfied no one was in further danger from falling objects, they withdrew, letting the crowd flood into the area beneath the man. This gave him an opportunity climb part of the way down the pole, dive into the crowd and disappear.
“Only about 10 percent of the crowd was for him,” Scott said. “Most of the crowd hated the guy and were trying to make him fall by throwing cans and bottles at him.”
The crowd also hurled shoes.
The police, who were also being struck with thrown abjects, responded by moving the crowd back with their batons.
“That’s not unusual. When you are using a baton you want to get their attention … but there were no serious injuries,” Scott said.
Considering the violent pushing of the crowd, which he said made him very nervous, Scott claimed, “the police conduct … was very professional.”
The police action was necessary, according to El Dorado County Sheriff Hal Barker, to protect the crowd from themselves, as well as from the man on the streetlight.
“He needs to be punished for his transgressions,” Barker said. “For his endangering so many people, damaging property, and his exposing himself so publicly.”
Scott said the police have several other leads and both he and Barker are very confident the man will be caught.
The man could face several charges such as destruction of property, lewd conduct and disturbing the peace.
While California law enforcement officials have been involved in the investigation, the case will probably be prosecuted in Nevada.
There has been some confusion over which state has jurisdiction in this case.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has asked an engineer from the Nevada Department of Transportation to help decide in which state the crimes were actually committed. The traffic signal is owned and operated by the California Department of Transportation but is located in Nevada.
“It looks like it’s going to be (prosecuted) in Nevada,” South Lake Tahoe Detective Martin Hale said. “It really doesn’t matter though … both sides are interested in prosecuting the case. We won’t tolerate that kind of behavior.”
Douglas County Sheriff’s investigator Ted Duzan said the case “will” be tried in Nevada, and the penalties the man faces will be more severe there.
“It’s hard to tell” which state would punish the man more severely, according to Hans Uthe, an assistant district attorney in El Dorado County.
“In any case it looks like he bought himself a streetlight and those things are expensive,” Uthe said. “So he probably won’t be a happy camper.”
Douglas County will most likely be given jurisdiction in this case, according to Uthe, who said his office would gracefully step aside when that happens.
Damage to California State property in another state makes California the victim, but does not give the state the right to prosecute, Uthe said.
The broken signal was replaced early in the morning on New Year’s Day at a cost of $802, said Caltrans spokeswoman Laura Featherstone.
Law enforcement officials have promised something will be done to prevent similar incidents in the future, but Featherstone said Caltrans will not grease their traffic signals, or take any similar measures.
“We are not going to do anything to our poles,” Featherstone said. “It would be terrible if some fool climbed up there and slipped because of something we did. It’s a no-win situation.”
South Lake Tahoe Police and Fire Chief Brad Bennett said Caltrans was asked last year to take steps to stop people from climbing street signals at Stateline, but refused.
“It’s just too big a liability issue,” Featherstone said.
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