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Ojai Naturalist Killed in Accident on California 33

Eileen Rose Baker, 57, dies after her car rolls down an embankment. She formerly taught children about nature for the city of Ventura.

June 17, 2003|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

Eileen Rose Baker, an Ojai environmentalist who spent nearly a decade educating and entertaining young children through nature walks and puppetry, died Sunday when her car plunged off California 33 in northern Ventura County.

Baker, 57, was formally trained as a nurse but craved the outdoors, friends and former colleagues said Monday. From August 1989 to June 1999, she was employed as a naturalist by Ventura's recreation department.

"She was an integral part of our program," said a tearful Barbara Orr, coordinator of Ventura's interpretive outreach program. "She was adored by teachers and parents and worked incredibly well with little children. She was a saver -- someone who saved stray dogs -- and she was loved very much."

Baker left her Ojai home Sunday about 8 a.m., according to California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Ehly. She lost control of her 1996 Ford Taurus about six miles north of Lockwood Valley Road near the Santa Barbara County line. The car was found about 2 p.m. Sunday.

"A passerby spotted the vehicle down the embankment. For right now, we don't know why she went off the road," Ehly said.

Ehly said investigators plan to study whether mechanical failure played a role.

During her tenure as an outdoor educator, Baker led schoolchildren -- some as young as 3 -- on walks through several city parks, including Arroyo Verde and Marina. She would teach children to look for animal tracks, offer safety tips about poison oak and itchy nettle, and describe how to stay warm in cold weather and build a shelter with sticks.

"She makes it fun so children feel comfortable outside. She starts by hauling out her collection of puppets, including a bear, snake and a little mountain lion," according to an April 13, 1995, recreation column in The Times on Baker's classes.

Johnji Stone, Baker's former supervisor in Ventura, said Monday that Baker was "very gentle and soft-spoken, and loved nature and sharing her knowledge of the outdoors."

Funeral arrangements were pending. Ehly said Baker is survived by a brother in Ojai and, according to her former colleagues, she also had family in Hawaii.

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