College of the Canyons officials have been informed that former Trustee Ernest L. “Ernie” Tichnenor was found dead Friday morning.
Tichenor, 56, was due to be sentenced Friday in Loudoun County, Va., after pleading guilty in July to charges of soliciting a 13-year-old girl over the Internet.
Certain COC officials said they were told Tichenor had committed suicide at his place of residence in Virginia, but that information could not be corroborated in an e-mail sent Friday by Tichenor’s estranged wife to college leaders.
“He passed quietly in the early morning hours of November 9, 2012,” the e-mail said. It invited recipients to a memorial service Sunday at a private residence in the San Fernando Valley.
Tichenor’s death could not be confirmed with authorities in Virginia Friday night. Numerous officials at sheriff’s offices and other agencies in Loudoun County and Fairfax County, where Tichenor lived at the time the crimes took place, said they would not have access to any information until Tuesday.
COC Chancellor Dianne G. Van Hook issued the following statement:
“All of us at College of the Canyons were saddened to learn of Ernie’s passing. Our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time, and we send them much love.
“During his 12 years of committed service on the Board of Trustees, Ernie helped to guide College of the Canyons through a dynamic period of growth in which we greatly expanded our facilities and services to the community.
“I know he was proud of his contributions, and we appreciate the leadership and dedication he provided.”
Tichenor, a onetime IRS employee, was elected to the college board three times, serving from 1997 to 2009.
He left the Santa Clarita Valley shortly before his term was up in 2009. He said his job with the IRS was taking him to the Washington, D.C., area.
Persons close to him at COC said they couldn’t believe what happened next. It wasn’t the Ernie Tichenor they knew.
In August 2011, Tichenor was arrested in Loudoun County after the mother of the 13-year-old victim found “inappropriate” e-mail messages from Tichenor to her daughter, Sheriff’s spokesman Kraig Troxell said at the time.
Tichenor had used the “Personals” section of the Craiglist website to create advertisements reading, “Dominant handsome professor for naughty young student” and “College girl in need of $$$$$.”
He pleaded guilty July 27 to one felony count of using “a communications system to facilitate certain offenses with a child.”
A lesser crime than soliciting a minor under 15, the plea carried a penalty of no more than five years and a $2,500 fine, prosecutor Joshua Steward said at the time.
Tichenor was believed to have been living in a group home in Virginia at the time of his death. By the time he apparently ended his life Friday, he had lost his home, his marriage and his job, according to persons who knew him during his tenure at COC.