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Tagger's Fall Will Be Lesson for Students

Graffiti: Man who plunged from freeway bridge must write letter about his injuries.

July 02, 1998|JOSE CARDENAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WOODLAND HILLS — A 19-year-old man who fell last year from a San Diego Freeway bridge where he was spray-painting graffiti was sentenced Wednesday to write a letter to San Fernando Valley high school students explaining how seriously he was injured.

Daniel Ryan Supple--who broke several bones, including his spine, in the fall--was also sentenced to three years' probation, his driver's license was suspended for a year and he was ordered to pay $1,518 to cover the cost of cleaning the graffiti off the bridge near the Skirball Center Drive exit.

The letter-writing exercise "is the most important part of the punishment," said Michael D. Schwartz, the assistant city attorney handling the case. "If there are any kids out there who get the message that tagging puts them at great risk of physical harm, it's a wonderful thing."

Defense attorney Charles English said his client--who pleaded no contest to the single misdemeanor count of vandalism--probably would have received a similar sentence had he gone to trial.

But the settlement--particularly the letter-writing requirement--will work in the interest of prevention, English said.

"My guess is [the city attorney] said: 'We want to stop people from doing this,' " English said, agreeing with the concept. "People during late hours of the night, hanging off high things, it's very dangerous."

The case stems from events in the early morning events of June 11, 1997. According to California Highway Patrol investigators, Supple climbed over a bridge railing and onto a concrete pylon that supports the overpass, thought to be the highest in Los Angeles County.

He became stranded while spray-painting his tagger name on the side of the bridge and plunged 100 feet to a freeway embankment.

Supple broke bones ranging from his ankles to his spine underwent several surgeries.

Since then Supple has been in and out of doctors' offices and, until recently, needed a wheelchair to get around, his attorney said.

"He's doing reasonably well, given what he went through," English said. "At the beginning it looked like he might not survive."

Supple--who even Wednesday had two doctors' appointments--must write a letter that will be reviewed by the judge and prosecutors at a July 29 hearing in Los Angeles Metropolitan Branch Municipal Court.

English would not allow interviews with his client Wednesday, but said Supple's letter will "talk about what happened to him, how he was injured and how he feels about it."

English declined to reveal specifics about his client's reflections over the last year, but said Supple understands that society considers graffiti a serious offense of vandalism.

The letter, along with photographs of his injuries and scars, will be sent to the principal of every San Fernando Valley high school. The photographs show surgical scars running the full length of his arms, legs and spine, Schwartz said.

"You can see the metal hooked up to this kid's bones, barely holding him together," Schwartz said. "I think he's fully aware of the horrible risk he took."

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