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Orange County | Dana Parsons

A Rough Living Leaves Its Marks

June 22, 2003|Dana Parsons

I knew I wanted to talk to Scott Mehr as soon as his father said of him: "He's out chasing two dudes right now, and I'm not sure he's available."

That was Thursday, so we didn't hook up until Friday, when Mehr, 41, met me in a Mexican restaurant in Santa Ana to talk about being a bounty hunter. "I refer to myself as a bail bondsman," Mehr says, but later uses "bounty hunter" in talking about his job.

He's third-generation and probably got the bug when his dad took him and his brother out to catch bad guys in the 1960s, before he was 10 years old.

Like father and grandfather before him, Mehr goes after guys who jump bail after the outfit he operates with his brother Steve, 46, has posted bond for them. If he can't find some guy, they're out anywhere from $250 to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Bounty hunters, who by job description operate in the shadows, were in the news last week when Duane "Dog" Chapman subdued fugitive Ventura County rapist Andrew Luster in Mexico. That landed Chapman in a Puerto Vallarta jail on possible kidnapping charges connected to Luster's apprehension.

"I'd never heard of the guy," Mehr says of Chapman, though he knows of three people sentenced to a Tijuana jail for 15 years for trying to bring a bail jumper across the Mexican border. And that's not a tactic of choice for today's more discerning bounty hunter, he says.

That's not to say Mehr, 6 feet 3 and 240 pounds, doesn't know how to handle himself. "Y'know, I've gotten in a few scrapes," he says, chuckling. "I've been stuck halfway inside, halfway outside a car, trying to pull the keys out of the ignition and the guy takes off with me in the car, going full speed."

To shake him, the bad guy jumped the curb and tried to separate Mehr by ramming the car door into a mailbox bolted in concrete. "He slammed me into the thing full bore. I landed out in the middle of Brookhurst in Anaheim with the mailbox. It was a time when I used to work out. I walked away from it."

And you think you've got an exciting job.

That's not a typical day. Imagine, instead, a stakeout for hours, over a period that drags on for months, but which you can't abandon because you put up $25,000 and the guy jumped bail. That's not glamorous.

Any given week, Mehr might be looking for 15 guys. That means several potential fights.

"If I'm working alone, and it's just me and the other guy, we probably end up on the ground 50% of the time," he says. He recalls an arrest gone bad where the guy wound up on top of him, punching wildly.

Mehr had backup not far away, but still engaged the guy. "It won't hurt me," he says of a fistfight. "I'm going to lose $25,000 [the bail amount] if I don't fight him, so I'll take a couple punches."

That "skip" got away and Mehr gave chase. Sheriff's deputies soon nabbed the bad guy, but not before Mehr's jeans got hooked on a fence, leaving him dangling and unable to touch the ground. "The deputy comes up, he's in hysterics," Mehr says. "My prisoner, who's going away for a few years, he's dying of laughter, too."

Mehr figures he's arrested more than 1,000 bail jumpers.

And yet ... "The excitement for me is not there anymore," he says. "Yeah, you still get that adrenaline rush and if you ever lose that, you should probably get out of the business. You've been in it too long."

It's just that the work isn't as much fun these days. "Things have changed," he says, ever since certain street drugs have made fugitives more dangerous and unpredictable. "It used to be a business I was real proud of, and we were good at what we did. But people have changed and it's a lot more dangerous, and I don't look forward to it."

*

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821, at dana.parsons@latimes.com or at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

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