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1 Accidental Death Bill Advances

Laws: Legislation championed by parents of O.C. victim would make it illegal to conceal a body.

March 25, 1999|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The accidental shooting death of a young Newport Beach entrepreneur 3 1/2 years ago was traumatic enough for his parents, but the fact that his body was hidden in a basement for several days added anguish to their suffering.

"The vision of our dear son lying dead and helpless in that basement has haunted us to this day," said David Wilk, stepfather of Tyler Hutchinson.

Amid grief-related medical problems and therapy sessions, David and Terryle Wilk sought help from state legislators. State Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine) responded with two bills to close what he sees as a gap in the law: Citizens are required to report motor-vehicle deaths but not other accidental deaths.

On Tuesday, the Senate Public Safety Committee approved, 4-0, one bill that would make it a crime to conceal a body. On a 2-2 vote, the committee failed to pass the second bill, which would require citizens to report accidental deaths to authorities. The committee could reconsider the second bill.

"I'm pleased one of the bills passed," Johnson said. "It's common sense. It should be the law."

Hutchinson, co-founder of Bolderblades Inc., an in-line skating goods company, was visiting friend Mark Westwick in Avila Beach, near San Luis Obispo, in late October 1995. Hutchinson and Westwick met as students at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Terryle Wilk said.

Late one night, Hutchinson was reportedly playing with Westwick's new semiautomatic pistol when Westwick grabbed for the weapon, which went off, killing Hutchinson.

Westwick, apparently in shock, told authorities he sat up all night with the body, then put it in a sleeping bag and lowered it in a dumbwaiter to a basement, where it remained for several days.

Westwick admitted cleaning up the bloody scene and driving Hutchinson's car 200 miles south to Inglewood. Three days after the shooting, Westwick reported the death. A jury acquitted him of murder and manslaughter charges. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the family won a $5-million civil judgment.

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