Why do we remain silent, or worse, defend the perpetrator?
by Stacey Warde
In a small town like Cayucos, with a population of only a few thousand residents, at one point or another, you’re likely to run into just about everyone who lives here, including the nut cases and predators and their friends, not to mention the few people who don’t like you.
I’ll admit, I’ve befriended a few of the nut cases.
We’ve had our share of them, and I’ve loved them all, and for the most part they’ve been decent people, in spite of their peculiar behaviors. This town, as small as it is, embraces the stranger, the oddball, I’ve seen it more than once, so long as he gets along, does his share, and generally respects his neighbors.
In this town, we like to say that we watch out for each other, especially those who are vulnerable, the elderly and the young, for example, and we keep a close eye on our children. We’re a quick easy stop for kooks traveling the coastal road between LA and San Francisco. Sometimes they stop and stay, sometimes they keep moving. We’re wary of strangers who don’t quite fit in and, trust me, we know who you are.
Which is even more important when it comes to people of questionable character, whether they’re passing through or actually living here, those who do more harm than good, who prey on the weak, lie, cheat, steal and inflict pain on others, including murder and rape, both of which have recently occurred here.
Thankfully, I’ve managed to avoid getting too close to the predators—and we’ve had more than one in the neighborhood.
Matthew James Levine, for example, reported his grandmother, Dorothy Vivian Autrey, 84, missing from her home on Hacienda Way, where he also lived with her on the southern outskirts of town, at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 21, 2008, about a day after she was last seen alive.
Dorothy, apparently, had been getting on Matthew about his lifestyle and an argument ensued, and she disappeared. He claimed she must have gotten lost, being old and forgetful and all, wandering who knows where. Maybe she got swept out to sea. It happens. Her soggy purse was later retrieved near the Cayucos Pier but she was never found.
Meanwhile, according to one account, Matthew handed out fliers about his missing grandmother, asking for clues and signs, anything to help him find her, even boarding a Cayucos school bus to enlist the children’s help.
Matthew turned himself in a month later and confessed to killing his grandmother. He’d stuffed her body in a suitcase and threw it over a cliff near Ragged Point, a treacherous stretch of Highway 1 that winds high above the jagged Pacific coastline in Big Sur. Her body was never found.
He claimed to have misjudged a blow to his grandmother, a warning bump, an accident perhaps, because he’d been under the influence of marijuana and cough syrup. He got scared and took the mafioso approach to hiding the evidence, tossing her remains into the sea. She is still reported as a “missing person.”
I didn’t know either Matthew or his grandmother and this tragedy may or may not have been avoidable, but there must have been signs of trouble. Someone in the neighborhood or family or circle of friends might have seen the signs, and made note of them. That alone would make us safer, just noticing, talking, making sure everyone’s ok.
Maybe it’s unfair for me to categorize Matthew as a predator because I didn’t know him but I suspect he had other motives for moving in with his grandmother than simply keeping an eye on her and making sure she was safe. He was later convicted of first degree murder and elder abuse.
I suspect that something darker than good intentions were also at work in the case of Oscar Higueros Jr., a former volunteer Cayucos fireman and citizen in good standing, who was recently convicted on several charges of raping a minor and human trafficking, and faces the likelihood of spending the rest of his life in prison.
I doubt his actions in keeping company with an underage girl rose solely from a desire to protect and love her, as has been conveyed to me by friends who know and like Oscar, and who have tried to convince me there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
Nonetheless, a jury found Oscar guilty on numerous counts and he will be sentenced for his crimes beginning at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, May 9, at San Luis Obispo Superior Court. He faces a minimum of 64 years and a maximum of 183 years in prison.
I noted the fact of his recent conviction in a Facebook post, suggesting that it would serve the community well to begin a dialog about how we might in the future protect our children from others who wish them harm: “Dead silence in Cayucos about predators in our midst. When do we start the conversation about how to protect our sons and daughters?”
I got the following comment from the wife of someone who worked with Oscar at the Cayucos Fire Department: “Stacey, you need to get all the facts before you lash out.”
I responded to this effect: “What are the facts? Let’s hear them, especially since the court that convicted Oscar, and Oscar himself, might be interested, if the facts can show that he’s not guilty.” She deleted her comment.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been scolded or corrected after mentioning Oscar’s arrest and conviction, as if there were details I should know—such as he was in love, or the underaged girl was a tramp.
At Schooner’s, soon after Oscar’s arrest, a friend of his told me over beer that Oscar really loved this girl. He was protecting her, as a good fireman should.
“You really don’t know what you’re talking about, dude,” he said, as if my mentioning the news of Oscar’s arrest had put me in the wrong. I had mentioned only the facts of the case as reported in local news media, which basically was a rewrite of the district attorney’s press release on the subject.
Maybe I didn’t know the whole story, I responded, but the court would find out whether he really loved this girl, or was using and abusing her. In any case, I added, the fact that she was underage might have been clue enough for Oscar to leave her alone. So, why didn’t he? And why didn’t those who know Oscar, and who still defend him, warn him that he was treading on thin ice? Or, for chrissake, why didn’t they report him?
Well, came the response, love knows no bounds and people do what they must when they fall for someone. Perhaps, I said, but the law is pretty clear, even for firemen, regarding sexual behavior between adults and minors. Oscar crossed the line. Now, he’s guilty of rape.
I respect and understand friendship and loyalty, but these qualities, as I’ve known them, would never, in their best form, tolerate or quietly condone the abuse of a minor or elder, regardless of whether their friend was in love or his victim a tramp. His actions were reprehensible and cannot be defended on any grounds that I know.
I’d give less consideration to defending one who has been deemed a predator, a menace to the community, and put more focus on the victims who have suffered from their abuse. §
Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.com.