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Fugitive's Arrest Gives Little Town Big Jolt : Reaction: Before accused killer's capture, Quincy's biggest criminal was a trash-spilling bear.

May 25, 1994|ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

QUINCY, Calif. — Nestled among the pines in the northern Sierras, this cozy mountain hamlet is known for its hiking, fishing and logging. It may be the last place one expects to find a fugitive.

But then Edward Patrick Morgan came to town.

On Tuesday, darn near all of Plumas County was abuzz about the arrest of Morgan, who fled to Quincy when police in Orange County declared him the prime suspect in the brutal weekend murder of a 23-year-old Huntington Beach woman.

Until the arrest, which came after a short but dramatic chase along the only two streets serving downtown Quincy's business district, the biggest news around here was the grand opening of the region's first fast-food restaurant.

Joshua Riley, 18, a senior at Quincy High School, put it succinctly: "This is crazy. We're in the middle of nowhere. Just a small, quiet town. The big happening was Taco Bell coming to town. Until this, that is."

Quincy--population 5,000--just isn't the sort of place where felony murder busts are supposed to happen.

"We haven't had this much excitement in town since I can remember," said Kim Steites, a longtime resident who keeps an eye on Quincy from behind the checkout counter of a gas station convenience store. "Probably the closest thing was when they supposedly sighted Big Foot last winter. Turned out to be a college student in a gorilla suit."

This is a town where residents take pride that the quality of life hasn't changed all that much in the 140 years since pioneer H.J. Bradley came upon the verdant alpine valley that harbors Quincy and named it after his hometown in Illinois.

Locals routinely leave their car keys in the ignition when shopping at the market. They don't think twice about leaving doors unlocked at home.

Neighborhood Watch? Who needs it? Everyone pretty much knows everyone else. There's no worries about allowing teen-agers to ride their bikes across town or swim in the river with a bunch of young friends.

Many worry more about the spotted owl's effect on the timber industry than about the arrival of big-city crime. Last week's crime blotter, printed by the weekly Feather River Bulletin, was topped by a woman concerned that her TV set was going to explode.

"It's a good place to live, a good place to raise kids," said Fred Krueger, timber management officer for the Plumas National Forest. "The biggest crime I've had is my garbage can getting turned over because I have a bear that lives in my back yard."

Steites said residents invariably get lulled into a sense of security.

"People are very, very trusting up here," she said. "We are so lucky. We take it for granted nothing bad is ever going to happen."

But when something does happen, word spreads fast. Gary Miller was working at a construction site 20 miles out of town, but he had heard about Morgan's apprehension within a few hours of the arrest.

"Gossip runs faster than the telephone in this county," said Pat Schmierer-Rottenkolber, an administrator at the local courthouse. "You'd be amazed how things get around."

Don't expect the talk to die down soon. "The story that's this big now," Steites said, spreading her hands wide as a pine cone, "will soon be this big." She stretched her arms enough to hug an old-growth evergreen. "By now people may think he's a mass murderer and killed 25 people."

Adding to the intrigue is a juicy tidbit: A young local woman--22-year-old Sonya Marvin--is involved in the case. Marvin, who was having a long-distance romance with Morgan, was arrested for harboring a fugitive in her Main Street apartment.

But many residents said their impression of Marvin was of a sweet young woman, an unlikely candidate for such a charge.

"There's a lot of disbelief that this little girl could be involved in something this heavy," said Schmierer-Rottenkolber.

Newcomers are even more disbelieving. In recent years, retirees and refugees from the Bay Area and Los Angeles have acquired land and built houses, buying into a slow-lane lifestyle amid the pines. Morgan's arrest doesn't sit well among them.

"It proves, unfortunately, that you can never get completely away from all the bad stuff in the world," lamented George Erdesz, an erstwhile architect who moved up from the Bay Area six weeks ago after buying the Ranchito Motel with his wife, Elizabeth.

"We were thinking it was middle America, old values. But I guess it's the impact of the outside world."

Even some old timers like Jack McLean, a retired plumber and Quincy partisan for the past four decades, acknowledge that nothing short of blocking the two roads that lead into and out of town is going to stop the dark side of America from occasionally spilling through the rugged mountain passes.

"Petty crime, drugs, I guess that's everywhere, including Quincy," he said. "Now there's this. Sure makes me glad I've got a shotgun for self-defense."

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