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Diver faked death, police say

Man who vanished off Laguna Beach faced sentencing hearing.

December 31, 2008|Susannah Rosenblatt

A diver who went missing in Laguna Beach last fall is believed to have faked his own death to evade felony charges, police said Tuesday.

John Sung Park, 29, of Buena Park allegedly disappeared the evening of Sept. 11 while diving and spearfishing with two male friends, said Laguna Beach Police Sgt. Jason Kravetz. The friends reported Park missing, saying they had become separated in the water.

That triggered a massive 24-hour search effort by several agencies, including the Orange County Harbor Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard, with additional rescue teams searching for days. The search cost an estimated $50,000.

Several incidents before and after the disappearance led Laguna Beach police to believe Park is still alive.

Before reporting Park missing, his diving companions returned to their car and changed out of their wetsuits.

The day before Park disappeared, he sold his black 1994 Mercedes Benz C220 to a woman in Tarzana.

Four days after he vanished, Park was scheduled to appear at a sentencing hearing on felony charges brought by La Palma police for drug possession, forgery, burglary and receiving stolen property. Park had pleaded guilty to the charges. Police issued a $50,000 warrant for his arrest. Park had an additional narcotics arrest warrant out in the Lakewood area, Kravetz said.

On Sept. 24, nearly two weeks after the disappearance, Park is believed to have returned to the Tarzana home of the woman who bought his Mercedes to take the car back, eventually hitting the woman's 22-year-old daughter with the vehicle. Los Angeles police issued a $95,000 warrant for Park's arrest.

The warrants, the court date, the Tarzana incident and the lack of evidence washing ashore in Laguna Beach led police to believe Park is alive, Kravetz said.

Park could face additional charges for causing a false emergency report. Police have talked again to the friends who reported him missing, and they continue to say that Park vanished beneath the waves. The two men could face possible charges, Kravetz said, but for now authorities consider them witnesses.

Police believe Park could still be in the Los Angeles or north Orange County area, where he has many ties, Kravetz said. His family told police they have not heard from him. He has not been seen since Sept. 24.

He is 5 feet, 11 inches tall, 170 pounds with black hair and brown eyes; the Mercedes license plate number is 5ZUA733.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Laguna Beach Police Det. Bill Cindel at (949) 497-0373.

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com

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