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Falls Kill 3 in 3 Years Near Campus

Despite fences along the cliffs, a weekend fatality was the second accident in a week

June 03, 2003|William Overend | Times Staff Writer

ISLA VISTA, Calif. — The third fatal fall in three years of a college student down a steep ocean cliff in this UC Santa Barbara community prompted a warning from law enforcement officials Monday: Just one misstep can get you killed.

Robert Anthony Carabal, 25, a former UC Santa Barbara student apparently visiting friends before graduation this weekend, was found at the bottom of an 80-foot cliff in the 6600 block of Del Playa Drive early Saturday; he died of a ruptured spleen an hour later, a Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department spokesman said Monday.

Toxicological tests to determine whether Carabel had been drinking were not completed Monday, officials said.

Carabal, a San Jose resident most recently attending Foothill College in the San Francisco Bay Area, was the third student since 2001 to fall to his death in early morning hours in a densely populated stretch of Del Playa Drive -- a part of Isla Vista with a reputation for heavy alcohol consumption.

Killed two years earlier were Santa Barbara City College students Clint McDonnell and Timothy Baptista. McDonnell was killed March 4, 2001, and tests showed he had been drinking when he fell. Baptista fell to his death two months later while attending a party.

After those earlier deaths, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors passed a law requiring Isla Vista property owners to build three-foot fences along the dangerous cliff-side area with warning signs. The fences now line the cliffs.

The problem, police say, is that many students, especially after having too much to drink, have started stepping over the fences and walking on the narrow ocean side in defiance of the warnings.

It's a problem throughout the year in an area where mounds of empty liquor bottles are kept in many ocean-side apartments as a testament to hard-core drinking.

"This week alone we arrested 10 people for public intoxication, cited 35 minors for possession of open containers and four for urinating in public," said Lt. Tom McKinny, head of a special sheriff's 17-member patrol unit in the Isla Vista area that was bolstered to 24 deputies last week to help combat increased graduation-time rowdiness.

"Actually, Carabal was the second person who fell off the cliff this last week," McKinny said. "One guy stepped over the fence to urinate and ending up falling into the ocean and breaking his arm.

"We also arrested a student for couch burning," he added. "This is a time of year known as 'couch-burning season,' because some students here celebrate the end of the year by hauling their couches out to the street and setting them on fire."

Bill Bean, assistant chief of the UC Santa Barbara campus police, said the problem is serious throughout the year, not just as graduation approaches. "This goes on all the time," he said. "Excessive use of alcohol and lack of judgment can be a deadly combination."

The hard-drinking nature of Isla Vista is most visible on weekends, when thousands of students jam the streets, pouring from their apartments late into the night, many of them drunk or high on drugs.

Only a few blocks from Del Playa Drive, on the north side of the campus, a student, David Attias, drove a Saab into a crowd of Isla Vista pedestrians on Feb. 23, 2001, killing four people and seriously injuring one other. Attias, who had begun substituting cocaine and marijuana for psychiatric medicine, was found to have been insane at the time.

Because of the attention that case focused on Isla Vista's alcohol dominated party scene, some safety steps were taken in the following months, including the addition of new street lights.

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