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Deputies Arrest Man in Chemical Disposal That Closed Ortega Highway

January 23, 1986|DAVE PALERMO and GARY JARLSON | Times Staff Writers

A 37-year-old South Laguna man was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of dumping hazardous chemicals that forced authorities to close Ortega Highway in south Orange County on Jan. 13, authorities said.

Richard Duane Leavitt was booked into Orange County Jail on one count of felony illegal dumping, according to California Highway Patrol Lt. Mike Bair of the San Juan Capistrano substation. Bail was later set at $100,000.

Sheriff's investigators were aided by two motorists who encountered a rental truck emitting a strong odor while driving on the highway Jan. 13, the first of two days in which the road was closed by illegal dumpings.

Leavitt was traced through the truck rental firm, authorities said.

Investigators said Leavitt met sheriff's deputies Wednesday morning at the sheriff's substation in Laguna Niguel and was taken to the Santa Ana office for questioning, after which he was arrested.

Bair said Leavitt is unemployed.

Residue from the truck is being tested by the Orange County Health Department to determine if it matches the toxic waste dumped along the highway.

"It's a very, very lengthy process, and it's going to be some time before the tests are completed because there were so many different chemicals involved," Bair said.

A 14-mile section of the mountain road that connects San Juan Capistrano with Lake Elsinore in Riverside County had to be closed twice last week following the discovery of containers of toxic, flammable, corrosive and explosive chemicals on the roadside.

The 100 gallons of chemicals found Jan. 13 included hydrazine, a highly volatile rocket propellant; oxidizers; acids, and other corrosives. Officials determined that some were too unstable to be moved, and technicians with the Sheriff's Department bomb squad blew them up the next morning.

Two days later, at a site about fives miles from the first, substances such as cyclohexane, hydrofluoric acid, sodium methylate and ammonium oxylate were discovered dumped beside the road.

Authorities said those substances were in containers ranging in size from a five-gallon, cooler-like box to pint glass and plastic bottles. Those materials were loaded into 55-gallon drums and transported to a waste disposal company's Long Beach facility.

Leavitt was arrested only in connection with the Jan. 13 incident.

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