HUNTINGTON BEACH — Still struggling to come to terms with the slaying of Jessica Uniack, friends of the well-liked Huntington Harbour woman participated in a symposium Saturday on the growing problem of random violence.
Several speakers and others among the 100 who attended the meeting offered warm recollections of Uniack, the 47-year-old mother of two teen-age boys, who was beaten to death Dec. 8 after a minor traffic accident on Pacific Coast Highway near Seal Beach Boulevard in Seal Beach.
Like thousands of other Americans who are killed each year, Uniack was the victim of random violence.
Later the same day, Irvine police arrested Leonard James Patton, 29, a Minnesota drifter, in Uniack's death. Patton is awaiting trial and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Along with the remembrances of Uniack, the Saturday conference focused on domestic violence and violence against children and the elderly in Orange County. John Taylor, director of the Family Service Assn. of Orange County, said that family violence in the county is "epidemic." Taylor said that an abused child often grows up to be an abuser and practitioner of violence.
According to Taylor, there were 37,000 reports of child abuse in the county in 1994 and 2,400 reports of abuse against the elderly. About 3 million children were abused throughout the United States last year, and about 1,400 died as a result of abuse from adults, he said.
"Parents who abuse children are among all of us. They live next door to us and work with us," and come from every ethnic and socioeconomic stratum of society, Taylor said.
Typically, abusers have a history of mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, and many grew up in dysfunctional families where violence and abuse were commonplace, Taylor said. These symptoms often manifest themselves in violent streaks in later years, he said.
Robert Finney, professor of radio, television and film at Cal State Long Beach, said television is often the root of many violent acts. People who commit violent acts often imitate what they see on television, Finney said.
Movies and TV news coverage of violent crime have desensitized society to violence and its effects on people, Finney said.
But television cannot be made a scapegoat for all of society's ills, he said. Although it is impossible to eliminate violence from television programming, parents can control what their children watch, Finney said. He cautioned parents about using television as a baby-sitter, because, he said, unsupervised viewing during adolescence can lead to violent behavior when a child grows older.
Meg Smoller, counselor at the Mariposa Women's Center in Orange, said that spousal abuse is the biggest cause of injuries to women in the United States. She said that one in every three women who visit a hospital emergency room seeks treatment for injuries suffered in a beating administered by a husband or male companion. Batterers are found in every segment of society, Smoller said.
Orange County Supervisor Jim Silva, whose secretary, Arlene Hoffman, was killed by an arrow shot into her chest in her Laguna Niguel home Dec. 30, spoke about the shock he experienced upon learning of her death.
Silva said Hoffman failed to show up for a meeting, and he called her home several times during the day. Worried that something might be wrong, Silva called the sheriff's office at 6 p.m. and asked deputies to check on her.
"Later that evening, Sheriff (Brad) Gates called me and said he had some bad news," Silva said.
Hoffman's killer has not been caught.