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Authorities Suspected Replay of 2002 Playground-Spiking

September 09, 2004|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

A Mission Viejo woman convicted in 2003 of planting razor blades, glass shards and nails in city parks and playgrounds may have been preparing a similar crime spree when she was stopped by a sheriff's deputy in Lake Forest, authorities said Wednesday.

Lori Elizabeth Fischer, 24, is being held without bail at Orange County Jail on suspicion of violating probation by allegedly carrying a dangerous or deadly weapon and failing to take medication. A probation hearing is scheduled for Friday.

A deputy said he discovered several neatly stacked piles of nails in the back seat of her car when she was pulled over about 4 a.m. Tuesday.

Authorities said they'd been tipped earlier Tuesday to watch for Fischer after receiving information that she was planning to sprinkle nails at a park.

"It's believed that she may have been on her way to a park because in the 2002 incidents in Orange County, nails were placed in the wee hours in the morning," said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

When deputies questioned Fischer about the nails, he said, her answers and demeanor were uneven, and authorities impounded her car and placed her under psychiatric observation at a hospital in Cerritos, where she had previously been treated. Fischer was arrested Tuesday as she was being released from the hospital.

"Anyone that intentionally tries to harm children should not be on the streets," Amormino said. "If the deputy didn't observe her, there was a good chance she would have hurt someone."

Fischer's attorney, though, said it was her client who arranged to check into the mental health facility, in part because she was worried about what she might do.

In 2003, Fischer admitted in court to burying nearly 200 nails and razor blades at county playgrounds and sandboxes. The sharp objects were found from April to June 2002 at parks in Foothill Ranch, Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel and Mission Viejo.

No one was injured in the incidents, but the discoveries prompted undercover deputies to set up surveillance at South County parks and comb the sand with metal detectors.

Two months after her arrest, Fischer pleaded guilty to 18 felony counts of child abuse and assault with a deadly weapon. During her sentencing, Fischer, who could have faced up to 11 years in prison, apologized for her actions and pleaded for leniency. The judge sentenced her to five years of probation and ordered her to get mental health treatment.

In a previous jailhouse interview with The Times, Fischer, who worked as a clerk at the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Laguna Niguel, called herself a loner and said she had often been mistreated as a student in South County. She said she liked to take late-night strolls at parks and had no ill will toward children.

Authorities Wednesday said Fischer was under a suicide watch and not permitted visitors.

Deputy Public Defender Lisa Kopelman said Fischer was not on the verge of committing a crime. Kopelman said Fischer was feeling suicidal and called the hospital to seek help after she failed for "a lengthy period of time" to take medication for a diagnosed psychiatric condition.

As investigators searched for her at the home she shares with her parents, Fischer called the hospital and told them she was in a Lake Forest parking lot, Kopelman said. Hospital officials called police.

Fischer had been taking her medication, meeting with her probation officer and getting treatment for her illness as ordered, Kopelman said. She said she did not know why Fischer stopped taking her medication.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Schatzle, who had urged the judge to sentence Fischer to the maximum 11-year prison sentence, said Wednesday that Fischer "continues to pose a threat to the community."

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