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Four girls touch the world, two in death and two in life

They are connected to one another and, in the most basic way, to the rest of humanity.

July 04, 2010|By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times

Last week was the week for girls lost and found. Their names were Abby and Sasha, Chelsea and Jaycee. Their stories, published by The Times last week, spoke alternately of optimism, mortality, resurrection and the search for redress for unfathomable pain.

Wednesday's newspaper was almost eerie. From the left side of one page, Abby Sunderland smiled and waved, her sandaled feet on dry land after her attempt to circumnavigate the world blew apart on the fierce winds of an Indian Ocean storm that demasted her boat.

From the right side of that page, Sasha Rodriguez smiled at the camera in that model-like pose favored by 15-year-old girls. She had no way of knowing it when the picture was taken, but she would not be as lucky as Abby; her trip to a rave concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum ended with her spiraling toward death from a suspected drug overdose.

The way the pictures were positioned, Abby faced to the right toward Sasha, and Sasha's face was angled slightly toward the left, toward Abby. You could imagine them sliding past each other at the mall, bright with possibility. It was hard to figure how one had survived alone, in the vastness of the sea, and the other had perished in the midst of 10 million people.

Chelsea King and Jaycee Dugard were not in The Times' report that day. But they were present last week as government tried to grind out recompense for their suffering.

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The same question dogged Abby Sunderland before, during and after her voyage. A 16-year-old girl who can't even drive a car wants to sail around the world — what are her parents thinking?

She set off in January, as her 17-year-old brother, Zac, had a year earlier on a venture that had ended successfully. Abby was halfway around the world when rough seas snapped the mast from her 40-foot boat. For hours no one knew what had become of her. Eventually a search plane made radio contact and, after two days of foundering, she was rescued by the aptly named Ile de la Reunion, a French fishing vessel.

A blizzard of criticism fell. "Let's face it. Life is dangerous," her father, Laurence, argued on "Good Morning America." "How many teenagers are killed in car accidents?... Should we stop every teenager from driving a car?"

Abby was still saying the same thing two weeks later, on Tuesday, when she met reporters after a lengthy journey home.

"I've crossed two oceans and two capes," she said. "The questions about my age should have been done months ago.... My trip didn't end because of something I did wrong." Ahead of her, she said, was getting her driver's license.

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Sasha Rodriguez didn't make it that far. She was only 15 when she died, a few days after attending the Electric Daisy Carnival at the Coliseum, a gathering with a hippie '60s name that apparently included at least one ill note from that decade, an abundance of drugs.

As she died, friends said her family was still trying to figure out what happened. She was one of the 120 people taken to hospitals after the rave. Afterward, doctors and public health officials repeated what they have said before: As long as raves attract drugs like flames attract moths, they should be banned. Eighteen drug overdoses were tied to a rave at the Sports Arena, next door to the Coliseum, last New Year's Eve.

In the end it seemed only a sad asterisk that Sasha was younger than 16, the supposed minimum age for entrance.

"I was supposed to be planning her Sweet Sixteen party," her mother, Grace Rodriguez, told the " CBS Evening News." "Now I have to plan her funeral."

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On the day that Sasha died and Abby defended her trip, the California State Senate's Public Safety Committee approved Assembly Bill 1844. Its colloquial name is "Chelsea's Law," named for Chelsea King.

She was the Poway High School student who went out for a run near Lake Hodges in February and vanished. Days later, her body was found in a shallow grave. A registered sex offender was arrested and pleaded guilty to her rape and murder and that of another missing girl. He is serving a life sentence.

So are the families. The King family joined with Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, a Republican from San Diego, to craft a bill that would change how the state deals with violent sexual offenders like Chelsea's assailant. Fletcher and Sen. Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco, negotiated a measure that is now headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee and, eventually, presumably, to the governor.

Among other things, it would allow a life sentence for the worst sexual offenders, heighten other sentences, change the risk assessment that determines how and whether felons are released and tighten other means the state has of restricting them.

"There's nothing you can do to stop every occurrence. Legislative bodies cannot remove evil from the world," Fletcher said. "But shouldn't you do everything you can? Shouldn't you try?"

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