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Tragedy on Broadlawn Drive : In a Drunken Second, Two Sets of Lives Changed Forever

December 18, 1987|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

March 4, 1987. It was about 9 o'clock on a quiet Wednesday evening at the Shaner home. Four-year-old Jessica had dressed in her pink bodysuit and tutu--she called it her "Tinker Bell" costume--and settled on the den sofa to watch her favorite "Care Bears" video.

Her mother, Barbara, having nursed the baby, Morgan, and put him to bed, was in Jessica's room putting away clean clothes. Her father, Tim, had been up at 5:30 a.m. to go to work and, feeling the effects of the sleepless nights that come with a new baby, was napping in the master bedroom.

Caravan En Route

Two cars in caravan, the first delivering James Masoner home from an office party, wound their way slowly up Broadlawn Drive across the freeway from Universal City, past the Shaner house at 3817, negotiating the S-curve, up the steep incline to the cul-de-sac where Masoner lived.

Minutes later, one of those cars, a silver-gray 1983 Camaro, California license 1JET460, with Masoner at the wheel, hurtled out-of-control back down Broadlawn, failed to negotiate a sharp right turn and smashed through the den of the Shaner house, slamming the sofa with Jessica on it through a wall, picking up the bunk beds in her room and pushing them through another wall, coming to a stop inches from the bed where Tim Shaner slept.

When the smoke and dust had cleared, paramedics found the body of Jessica Shaner. It was so badly traumatized that relatives made the decision to have a closed casket for her funeral six days later at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

Dec. 4, 1987. After deliberating for three days, the jury found James Benjamin Masoner, 47, guilty of second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter and two felony drunk driving charges. He will spend Christmas in county jail, awaiting sentencing on Jan. 8.

Entwined in Tragedy

In a few horrible minutes, strangers' lives had become forever entwined in tragedy. The Shaners, who happened to live in the path of a drunk driver's car, were now innocent victims. Masoner's unextraordinary life had turned into a nightmare. Facing a maximum sentence of 15 years to life, he reflects on those few minutes that night that, he says, "will replay in my head the rest of my life."

There were two houses for sale on Broadlawn when Barbara and Tim Shaner were house-hunting in 1973. They liked both but, Barbara recalls, they "felt good" the minute they walked into 3817, a cozy 38-year-old bungalow that had gone on the market only that day. "There was no question," she said. "You just know when it's the right one."

They bought the house in July. Some time afterwards, 3717 up the hill also sold. The buyer: James Masoner.

These were happy, fun-filled days for Barbara. She and Tim, who had met as students at L.A. Valley College, had married in 1973, buying this house, their first, that same year. Both loved the time spent there; only recently, they had finished remodeling the den and it was Tim's pride and joy.

It was work as usual March 4 for Tim Shaner at Anderson Desk in Glendale, where he was a manager in purchasing and inventory control. But Barbara, who had been working in public relations, had decided to stay home for six months after the birth of Morgan, who was then 3 months old.

After a quiet dinner that night at the Shaner home, Jessica prevailed on her parents to allow her to stay up to watch cartoons. She and her mother had had what Barbara looks back on as "a particularly special day. We painted her fingernails, did very special things together." Jessica did not go to preschool on Wednesdays.

They had waited 10 years to have a child and Jessica was a special blessing, a happy, healthy little girl. Barbara and her blond, brown-eyed daughter took swim-gym classes together. The family had started going to Episcopal church in Studio City, Jessica to Sunday school. If Barbara took on free-lance assignments, she worked her schedule around Jessica. One night each week, Tim treated his daughter to pizza at Chuck E Cheese.

As a family, they went to Y Camp Fox on Santa Catalina Island. "She was such a big part of our lives," Tim said.

They wanted another child but, Barbara said: "We really made a conscious decision to wait until she was four. We didn't want her to feel she was being pushed aside."

On March 19, two weeks after the accident, Jessica Shaner would have been 5 years old.

That afternoon, James Masoner and associates from Neal Lloyd Insurance had lunched at Le Dome in West Hollywood, a wet lunch that, for him, included a couple of martinis, a cordial and champagne afterward in the bar. It was late afternoon when Masoner returned to his office in the 3300 block of Wilshire Boulevard.

He had been employed by Neal Lloyd West as a middle manager since January, a job he had been pleased to get after another insurance company for which he had worked had gone under. Professionally, things were, in Masoner's words, "hunky dorey."

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