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Fatal Deception

Web of Lies May Have Snared Young Drug-User-Turned-Informant, Killed Allegedly by People Who Knew of His Ties to Police

April 05, 1998|SCOTT MARTELLE and BONNIE HAYES | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Chad MacDonald, a 17-year-old from Yorba Linda, 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 he slipped off that edge, the fall was dramatic, resonating far beyond his Orange County neighborhood to spark 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 killed, 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.

But he was also, in the last months of his life, living at the center of a net of deceit--as a runner, a go-between, who used his prized truck as a methamphetamine courier service between a Yorba Linda dealer and the dealer's customers.

Police reports and interviews with many of the troubled young man's friends and family 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 students 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 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 on suspicion of possessing 10.99 grams of meth. (The Brea Police Department is under contract to patrol Yorba Linda.) "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 told. He lied to his mother. He lied to his friends. He lied to the police who agreed to drop the drug possession charges if he turned snitch. He lied to his fellow drug dealers.

In the month since the youth's battered and strangled body was found in a South Los Angeles alley, the MacDonald family lawyer and police reports have cast him as a youth willing 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 with his girlfriend to a ramshackle drug house nearby.

Although the family's lawyer, Lloyd Charton, insists that MacDonald went to the house to set up one last deal for the cops, police reports indicate that Brea police had already dropped him as an informant and were moving forward with criminal drug possession charges against him.

The reason: He wouldn't stop using meth.

The habit wouldn't die until he 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.

Father's Death Shatters Promise of the Future

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 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," said her brother, Chris Saroli. "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 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. His relatives declined further comment.

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. . . . [Shyken] cared for Chad, I believe that, but [Shyken] went down another road."

Through it all, Cindy MacDonald and her boys remained close to her side of the family, a rambunctious crew known for sloppy kisses and bearhugs, Saroli said.

But there was darkness in the home too.

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