Saturday, July 16, 2011

Don Ray Exclusive! A crime scene nightmare in Glendale.

By Don Ray
Staff Writer

GLENDALE — It was a dark and windy night in 2002. Glendale Police officers responded to a silent alarm coming from an upscale house in an upscale hillside neighborhood. By the time they arrived, the wind had blown away all of the electricity in the neighborhood.
The front door was wide open. Nobody responded to their knocks or calls of  "Anybody here?" So, with flashlights in hand, they entered the living room and quickly discovered a gruesome scene.

 The bullet hole in the center of the man's forehead made two things obvious:
Whoever it was was dead, and there had to be foul play involved — murder. Before they could secure the crime scene, they had to search the place, just in case the killer was still there. Where they had to, police officers broke down doors and anything else that kept them from getting to any place a killer could hide.
While they awaited the Los Angeles County Coroner's investigators, they were careful to not destroy any evidence. Of course, they left the body as they had found it.

A while later, the house's owner, Jerry Quist, returned home to flashing red and blue lights, police cars and the coroner's van. But moments before he arrived, the police or the coroner investigator had solved the mystery.

There was no need for a crime scene. There was no crime. There were no suspects. And there was no dead body.

Today Jerry Quist laughs about the incident. In one sense, the incident was a tribute to his professional skills. Without meaning to, he had fooled the police.

"If the power hadn't gone out, they may have had enough light to see that it was a movie prop," Quist says.
"I had made it for a film called Gigli with Ben Affleck.That's Jerry Quist sitting next to his gruesome creation below.

He says that, following the shooting of the film that was released in 2003, he had kept the body in his Glendale house.

"You never know when they might need to re-shoot a scene or something," Quist said.

When they released the movie, he says it was now OK for him to disassemble the mock murder victim.

The veteran make-up artist and make-up department head has worked in a slew of films including "Red," "Fast and Furious," "Tropic Thunder" and "The Sixth Sense." But he never envisioned that one of his creations would star in the unfolding of a real-life drama.

"It was my fault for not closing the front door when I went out that night," he says. It seems that the wind had blown open the door, which triggered the alarm, and eventually blew out the power before the police would arrive.

Following the debacle, Quist says the police and coroner investigator quickly packed up their things and left him there to repair all of the damage that officer had done looking for a killer.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A near-death experience with a remarkable update.

Meet Fred Gallegos.

I first encountered him some 42 years ago. This is what he looks like today.
 Here’s the story of our previous encounter:

The headlights from the cars going the other direction on the Ventura Freeway were filtered by the chain link fence that divided the freeways back on June 5, 1969 --- all except one set of headlights that were distinctly brighter.

I was in the fast lane heading east. The car with the way-too-bright lights was heading west in our direction. I couldn’t say for sure, but there was a chance he was on our side of the freeway --- in the same lane.

I was home on leave following my time in Vietnam. My friend John Stiles and I had been checking out the Bob’s Big Boy restaurants in Toluca Lake and then Van Nuys. We were looking for another guy we used to run with. It was past midnight and we were heading back to Bob’s T.L. just in case he might be there now.

But now, all I could think of was to get the hell off the freeway – just in case it was a wrong-way driver --- and let him have all of the lanes to himself. John didn’t know what was going on when I darted to the right from lane #1 to lane #4 and then onto the shoulder of the freeway just past the Cahuenga Blvd. on-ramp.

As John was asking me what the heck I was doing, the wrong-war driver failed to come out of the gentle curve and was barreling directly toward us. There was nowhere to go and nothing else we could do.

We both braced for the crash. But less than a second before the unavoidable impact, a little Mercedes Benz drove past us in the slow lane to our left and smashed head-on into the wrong-way driver.

Only about eight feet from the front of our car, the two vehicles rose up in the air and crashed down in front of us.

Then there was silence --- the most eerie silence I’ve ever not heard in my life. If there were other cars, I didn’t hear them. We both got out and, through the steam and dust, we ran up to the driver of the Mercedes. He was crushed up against the steering wheel, unconscious.

But he was still breathing. John immediately pried open the hood of the car and somehow ripped the battery cables from their terminals. At the same time, the driver of the other car, a huge Chrysler convertible with the top down, staggered out and started wandering around the scene.

Quite drunk.

The next thing I remember was seeing a guy walking quickly in our direction from a car about an eighth of a mile in front of the scene. He was lighting highway flares and laying them down. I ran toward him to give him a hand. When I got close to him, I realized that this was the friend we had been looking for all evening.

I had to leave a day or two later for my next duty station in Michigan, so I never got a chance to find out what happened after that --- until today, that is.

I had an appointment with my favorite dental hygienist in the morning at the V.A. clinic in Downtown L.A. Afterwards, I walked to the main L.A. Library to look up a bunch of stuff in the L.A. Times Index they have online there. I used the search terms “head-on,” “wrong-way” and “Ventura” for the months of May and June of 1969.

Back at my office, I dug into the public records indices to find a Fred Callegos (the middle initial was blotched out, as you can see) who was born in 1941 or 1942. The only match was Fred P. Gallegos who has a business in the Agoura Hills area.

So I called the number on the website. Even though it was after hours, a woman answered. I said I was looking for the Fred Gallegos who was in an accident on the Ventura Freeway in 1969. She knew all about it and put him on the phone.

To say that it was a strange conversation for both of us would be an understatement. Probably more for him than for me. I always seem to be doing these kinds of things. To make a long story shorter, he was eager to hear about the accident. All he remembered was waking up in traction in the hospital --- and the year it took him to recuperate.

He was a construction worker at the time, which is probably why he’s alive today.

“The doctors told me that anybody else would have died from that accident,” he said. “I was in great shape --- almost at the peak age of 28.”

But he was still a mess. Broken femurs, broken jaw, teeth crushed and rearranged. But for all of the damage, there were some amazing things that seemed have happened through fate or karma or something.

He used to hang out in a bar in Glendale,he told me. One of his drinking pals was an insurance agent who had pestered him to sign up for a $300 disability insurance package. Finally, Fred had given in, he says.

“Then, a little while later, the guy tells me I should increase it to $500,” Fred said, “so I did.” It was only a short later that he got hit on the freeway. And, it turns out, the drunk in the other car had no insurance whatsoever. If it hadn’t been for that disability policy, Fred says, he’d have been screwed.

And also, right before the accident occurred, Fred’s dentist had taken impressions of his mouth for some dental work. When the dentist heard about the accident, he made up a cast of Fred’s mouth and took it to the hospital.

“He came in an moved all of my teeth back to where they had been!”

Over the years, Fred has had more than 40 surgical procedures for everything from throat cancer to fused vertebrae to a heart attack to gall bladder surgery and four knee surgeries. Then there was his right eye that got hit with something and another six surgeries because of that. But he never once complained to me or murmured a bit of regret. Instead, he wanted to talk about his wife, Paula, and how well the kids have done. 

We talked for more than an hour, and I got to know a man whose life is filled with spirit --- positive spirit --- and a man who has never stopped living each day with gusto.

We’re going to get together in the next week or two.

It’s strange how we hook up with people, isn’t it?

Sunday, July 03, 2011

I finally learned the name of my early -- unlikely -- hero -- 49 years later.

If only I could have found a more productive outlet for my creative juices.

Today, I finally learned the name of a man who was my inspiration. For a while, I wondered if maybe I hadn't really seen him --- that maybe it was something I had conjured up in a dream. But thanks to YouTube, today I was the 94th person to view the proof that he existed.

I wasn't dreaming.

I saw him on the evening of February 12, 1962, live on the television program, "I've Got a Secret!" I had just turned 13 the month before. It's a well-know fact among members of my family that I didn't take good notes in school -- and not at all while watching television. So I didn't remember his name. Today, I learned it: Stan Berman.

Why would I be inspired by a Brooklyn cab driver? It was because of his secret: --- he was a gatecrasher. I'd never heard the term before, but by the end of that TV program, I was already dreaming of the day I could be one.

I didn't remember the long, gatecrashing resume he had displayed in photographs that evening, except for one. I'll never forget seeing him sit with the Kennedy Family at the Inaugural Ball for President John F. Kennedy the year before on my 12th birthday, 1961.

That's Stan Berman seated three seats to JFK's right (your left). I don't know who the woman is seated to the right of the applauding Stan Berman, but to his left is the President's father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr. The President's mother is between him and his father.

No, I didn't make a career out of being a gatecrasher, but I never stopped thinking about pulling such a clever, albeit harmless prank. I will confess that, as a journalist, there were times when I used some of Stan Berman's inspiration to help me get closer to people I needed to interview, but I only did it recreationally one time.

And I consider it one of my greatest accomplishments.

It was at Burbank High School on a Saturday evening, when I was an 11th grader. As usual, I showed up early to an event -- this time earlier than anyone else, it turns out. It was in the auditorium. and it was slated to be a collection of musical performances by some popular music personalities. Most were probably on the downward side of their careers, but they were at least once-popular. The person I was bent on seeing live was a young folksinger who was very popular in Southern California, Tim Morgan.

I don't remember exactly when I decided to attempt the crashing of the gate, but I know when the action started. I was the only person standing in line at the ticket window. Nobody was even inside the booth yet. The custodian walked up with a set of keys and asked me if I was the ticket seller. I responded with a single word -- a word that would launch my own inauguration to gatecrashing.


A moment later, I was alone in the ticket booth and was able to "sell" myself a front-row, center seat. A moment after I placed the ticket in my shirt pocket, a pretty girl (who was pretty concerned) was knocking on the door to the booth. I opened it and she said, "What are you doing here?" Someone had once told me two rules to follow when caught red-handed: 1). Don't flinch. 2) Always answer a question with another question.

"What are YOU doing here?"

She said she was supposed to be selling the tickets. I said the same thing back to her, but I quickly suggested we split up the task. I allowed her to take the first shift. I'd come back later to relieve her, I lied. I knew I would never come back. Instead, I walked to one of the three or four entry doors to the auditorium. I almost handed off my ticket, but I started thinking that it had been too easy. I didn't want it to end that quickly.

I noticed that there was a second attendant at the door. He was handing out the program booklets.

"Excuse me," I told him. "We've run out of programs at the side door. Could I please take some of yours?" I took my half-stack to the side door and told the person there that he was to go cover one of the other doors. I was supposed to work this door now. Then I handed out the programs until I was down to just one. I carried it inside and took my seat.

Still too easy! I was front-row, center, but there were people with a better view: they were backstage. I watched one official walk through a door that led backstage, so I waited a couple of minutes, got up and walked backstage. I hadn't thought about what I would say if someone asked. They didn't, however.

Then I saw Tim Morgan sitting on a stool, warming up with his beautiful guitar. I had to talk to him. I walked up to him and said, "Hi, I'm with the school paper. May I interview you please?" He was happy to oblige me. Afterwards, I asked him if I could play his guitar. After all, the first four chords I had learned on my $7, used Sears Silvertone guitar were the chords to his cult-favorite song, "The Cat Came Back" (E-minor, D, C, B7 -- a most difficult chord to play). He handed me his guitar and I nailed the B7! He was impressed.

Then I wandered over near the light and curtain cage -- just off stage left. Nearby, the designated student "introducers" were reviewing the 5x7" cards someone had handed them --- cards with the introduction information for each artist.

At that moment, there was a crisis at the light and curtain cage. It seems that the custodian who had opened the ticket booth door for me was working the lights, but he was apparently drunk. I think he had just walked away, so there was nobody there to work the lights.

I volunteered and took over. It was a stupid thing to do because I didn't know the first thing about the lights or the curtains. The drama teacher, a former Marine named Miss Wolfson had been barking orders from the projection booth behind the balcony. I'd listen to the intercom and then look for something with a label that matched what she was saying.

Apparently I failed, because a few moments later, she was there at the cage and was chewing me out for screwing up the lights. "You were on the stage crew! You should know how to do this," she said. I didn't think it was a good time to volunteer the information that I had only been a volunteer for one production, "My Fair Lady," the prior year --- and, no, I never learned the lights. Anyway, she kicked me out of the cage.

That left me without a job, so I went up to the person handing out the "introduction" cards and asked for mine. Whoever it was giving them out didn't question my credentials, so I took my card and waited my turn.

Two performances later, I walked out onto the stage and did a pretty darned good job introducing singer Bobby Day singing his hit song, "Rockin' Robbin."

Then I retired as a gatecrasher. It's always good to undefeated -- sort of.

A postscript: After posting this, I found out that Stan Berman died at age 41. How sad.

Died. Stanley Berman, 41, Brooklyn cab driver and self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Gate-Crasher"; of a blood infection; in Brooklyn. No occasion was too exclusive, no dignitary too aloof for Berman, who posed as a waiter to demand Queen Elizabeth II's autograph during her 1957 visit, crashed J.F.K.'s Inaugural Ball in 1961, and had his finest moment in 1962 when he charged onstage to hand Bob Hope an Oscar in front of 100 million TV watchers.