Yorba Linda teenager Chad A. MacDonald Jr., a handsome onetime Little Leaguer, spent the last months of his life playing at the edges, balancing his involvement with illicit drugs against his role as juvenile police snitch.
When the 17-year-old slipped off that edge, the fall was dramatic, resonating far beyond his Orange County neighborhood and leading to broad condemnations of the Brea Police Department's use of juvenile informants and calls in Sacramento for laws banning the practice.
Before MacDonald fell, before he was tortured and murdered, before his girlfriend was raped and shot and left for dead in the Angeles National Forest, he appeared to be that most typical of suburban youths, a likable jock who cherished his ride--a white 1991 Nissan pickup truck.
But he was also, in the last few months of his life, living at the heart of a net of deceit. He was a runner, a go-between, who used his prized truck for a methamphetamine courier service.
Police reports and interviews with some of the troubled young man's friends and his family's attorney indicate that word was out on the streets of Yorba Linda that if you wanted drugs, particularly meth, MacDonald would be a good person to find. The local high school kids knew it. Drug dealers knew it. Even the police knew it.
Which is why, when a Brea traffic cop pulled MacDonald over early Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 6, the officer was interested in more than California vehicle and traffic laws.
"I . . . told MacDonald that his name and vehicle were floating around Yorba Linda as being involved with selling narcotics and asked him if it was true," the unidentified officer wrote in his report after arresting MacDonald for possession of 10.99 grams of meth. "MacDonald said that he used to be involved in narcotics a long time ago, but he was now straightened out."
It wasn't the last lie MacDonald would tell. He would lie to his mother. He would lie to his friends. He would lie to the police who agreed to drop the drug-possession charges if he turned snitch. He would lie to drug dealers.
In the month since MacDonald's battered and strangled body was found in a South Los Angeles alley, the MacDonald family lawyer and police reports have cast MacDonald as a kid looking to cut deals to save his own skin while continuing to use the meth that got him into trouble in the first place.
In the last week of his life, as word circulated on Yorba Linda streets that he was cooperating with police, MacDonald stayed away from home, holed up in a motel in Norwalk and made regular visits to a ramshackle drug house on nearby Halcourt Avenue.
While the family's lawyer, Lloyd Charton, insists that MacDonald went to the house to set up one last deal for the cops, police reports show that Brea police had already dropped him as an informant and were moving forward with criminal drug-possession charges against the youth.
The reason: He wouldn't stop using meth. The habit wouldn't die until MacDonald did.
In some ways, the mystery of Chad MacDonald lies not in his death, but in his life, and why he stepped so willingly and fully into the world of drugs.
An Active, and Tough, Childhood
Chad Allan MacDonald Jr. was born April 7, 1980, to Chad Allan MacDonald Sr. and Cindy Saroli MacDonald, a Detroit couple who staked their future on a move to Southern California.
The promise of that future was shattered just after 2 a.m. March 5, 1981--a month before the baby's first birthday--when Chad MacDonald Sr., drunk, ran into a light pole along Imperial Highway in Brea, less than a mile from home. He was killed and MacDonald's mother was severely injured, left partially disabled and unable to work.
She is "not a well person," her brother, Chris Saroli, said Friday. "She's paralyzed in her right arm. . . . You would never know it talking to her, but when she's put under pressure, she cracks."
Thirteen months after her husband's death, Cindy MacDonald married Mark L. Shyken. It was a troubled marriage from the start, and it ended in April 1986, according to court records.
The couple had two sons together. But Shyken's problems with alcohol and cocaine, which eventually landed him in rehabilitation, led Cindy MacDonald to seek restraining orders against him, in part because he exposed their children to drugs, she charged in court filings.
Shyken, who family members said has turned his life around, did not respond to requests for an interview.
Chad MacDonald, Saroli said, was acutely aware that Shyken wasn't his father.
"I think it bothered him more than he let on," Saroli said. "He knew in his heart that he didn't have a dad. That true bond was missing in Chad's life."
Through it all, Cindy MacDonald and her boys remained close to her side of the family, a rambunctious crew known for sloppy kisses and bear hugs, Saroli said.
As a boy, Saroli said, MacDonald was "into everything--soccer, Little League, tennis, whatever." The MacDonald house became a neighborhood kid magnet.