Tumult and Fury of 1985 Had a Flip Side : A Toxic Fire, a Bomb, but Also the Septuplets

December 29, 1985|STEVE EMMONS | Times Staff Writer

It was a year of sobering ill will in Orange County in 1985. There was the county's worst environmental emergency, the introduction of a cold-blooded killer and a terrorist bombing that left one man dead.

But there was a brighter side, too: If you commute on the Costa Mesa Freeway, if you think you might be arrested, if you're a goat, 1985 was probably a good year for you.

When you think back on 1985 in Orange County, you will think of these happenings.

The news broke in March: A 30-year-old Riverside woman who had been given fertility drugs was at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange preparing to deliver seven babies.

Patricia Frustaci, a high school English teacher, and her husband, Samuel, a salesman, previously had conceived a child with the help of fertility drugs. But seven?

"We never expected this," she said as she sat in her hospital bed. "We thought, possibly, of there being twins, or maybe even triplets, but one baby would have been just fine. We weren't trying for a record." Still, a record was in prospect. Septuplets had never before been born in the United States. "We're praying and hoping they all make it," she said, "but we're going in with our eyes open. We're not expecting the world."

She said she would be happy to take home just one healthy baby, but because of the uncertainty, they were not buying baby clothes yet. "Do you buy for seven or for two?" she said.

For three, as it turned out. On the morning of May 21 four boys and three girls were born 12 weeks premature. One of the girls was stillborn. The others were listed in critical but stable condition and doing well for their sizes--from 1 pound, 1 ounce to 1 pound, 13 ounces.

But by the time the last went home on Oct. 4, three more had died. The survivors were Steven Earl, Patricia Ann and Richard Charles.

"I feel lucky that we have three because the odds were against (the septuplets) surviving," Patricia Frustaci said as she was taking her last child home. "But I lost four children in 19 days and I still cry for them every day."

Four days later, the Frustacis filed a lawsuit against the West Los Angeles clinic and doctor who had administered the fertility drugs, alleging medical malpractice and wrongful death. The Frustacis' lawyer said the couple had been made "virtual prisoners by the need to care for and support these children."

The news of the Night Stalker, the man who sneaked into homes at night, then raped and killed, was a story from distant Los Angeles until Aug. 25.

On that night, a man entered William Carns' home in Mission Viejo, shot Carns three times in the head, then raped Carns' fiancee. Suddenly, Orange County, too, began bolting its doors, buying guns and leaving the lights on all night.

Carns and his fiancee survived the attack, but it may have been the undoing of the Night Stalker. It provided police with the clue that allowed them to identify Richard Ramirez, a 25-year-old drifter from Texas, as their No. 1 suspect, and his capture came seven days later.

The hero turned out to be 13-year-old James Romero of Mission Viejo, who had stayed up late that Sunday night to work on his motorbike. He saw what he considered a suspicious car drive by, and he called the Sheriff's Department to report it. It was an orange Toyota, he said, and he gave them a partial license plate number. After Carns was attacked only a few hours afterwards and less than a mile away, police believed they had their first clue to the Night Stalker.

Los Angeles police quickly found what they thought was the car, and inside it criminalists discovered a partial fingerprint that they said allowed them to identify Ramirez as their suspect. Ramirez's photograph, published in newspapers and televised, became the most familiar face in Southern California that week, and on the following Saturday, he was spotted in an East Los Angeles neighborhood and captured by neighbors.

A week later, doctors reported that Carns was awake, alert, sitting up, eating and beginning to feel sensation in his paralyzed left arm and leg. (By mid-December, he had been released from the hospital to spend Christmas with his family in North Dakota.)

That same week, Romero was presented by Sheriff Brad Gates with an off-road motorcycle and $4,500 in cash from private donations. "When somebody's done something this good, we like to do something about it," Gates said.

Romero received a plaque, too, that praised his "bravery and courage."

Do you feel like a hero, he was asked.

"Yeah," he said.

In the meantime, the wheels of justice began to move a bit. On Dec. 2, Ramirez was arraigned in Santa Ana on attempted murder and rape charges as the first step in what promises to be a long road toward trial. He also faces charges stemming from 14 murders in Los Angeles County and one murder in San Francisco.

The fire began smoldering in an Anaheim warehouse on June 22, and a day later a county fire official was calling it "Orange County's worst environmental emergency."

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