By Leon Worden/SCVNEWS.com
Two unrelated collisions in precisely the same remote mountain location northeast of Castaic have left one man dead and another man injured but alive after a week in the wilderness.
It’s a bizarre tale of tragedy and a remarkable story of survival rolled into one – with a family’s incredible tenacity mixed in for good measure.
A 66-year-old Lake Hughes man survived for six days at the bottom of a ravine by eating leaves and drinking water from a puddle in a mostly dry creek bed. All the while, his children and their spouses were retracing his steps, scouring every nook and cranny of Lake Hughes Road from Castaic to Lake Hughes in search of clues to their dad’s whereabouts.
Finally Thursday, Sept. 29, at about 6 p.m., Sean Lavau called out into a ravine at a hairpin turn on Lake Hughes Road, 1.5 miles south of the Warm Springs Rehabilitation Center.
Back came a faint cry for help.
He recognized the voice as that of his father, David J. Lavau.
“Mr. Lavau’s family is amazing,” CHP Officer John Lutz said. “I say that because they were diligent in the search for their father.”
Capt. Mark Savage of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said paramedics responded to the scene after receiving a 911 call from Lavau’s daughter-in-law. Fire fighters airlifted Lavau to the new helipad at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. Savage said fire crews also rescued three of the man’s family members who had scampered down the steep cliff to reach him. Their dad was alert and had his bearings, according to a CHP report.
Lavau, a former Time Warner Cable employee in Palmdale, told emergency responders he went off the road at 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, while en route home from the Castaic area. He said he was driving north on Lake Hughes Road when bright car headlights came at him from the opposite direction. He said he swerved to avoid the other vehicle, hit the soft dirt shoulder and slammed on his brakes – and over he went in his blue 2006 Toyota Camry.
He landed in the rocky creek bed, 500 feet down the cliff.
Friday noon: Lavau’s Camry got stuck on the rocks as it was pulled from the ravine.
Lavau said he spent that Friday night inside the car and crawled out the next morning to find another car – a silver 4-door Toyota Corolla – immediately adjacent to his own. Inside it, a man was gripping the steering wheel. Lavau said it was clear the man had been dead “for some time,” according to the CHP report.
Lavau didn’t merely land “close” to the other car. Friday morning, it could be seen that the two cars were touching.
Lavau sustained moderate injures, and Lutz said Lavau also had a previous disability. One or both of those factors made it impossible for Lavau to climb out of the nearly sheer-sided ravine.
Obscured by cottonwoods and other trees and bushes, as well as a concrete retaining wall spanning the little creek, neither car was visible from the roadway – unless you stood in just the right spot and knew exactly what you were looking for.
Friday morning: Lake Hughes Road is blocked as Urban Search and Rescue crews prepare to retrieve the cars from the ravine to the right.
Lake Hughes Road remained closed from Friday morning to mid-afternoon as Urban Search and Rescue crews and private tow companies pulled out the two vehicles – a process that took more than two hours. Fire fighters stood by with a water hose in case the cars leaked fuel and caught fire on the way up. They didn’t.
Lavau’s Camry got stuck on the rocks as it was brought up first, its front end and roof completely smashed in, followed by the silver Corolla with the deceased victim still inside. The terrain was deemed too treacherous for coroner’s officials to rappel down to the crash site.
The dead man’s identity, if known, has not been released, and the circumstances of his crash are under investigation.