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A life of ups and downs

Family mourns Newhall man who died in police pursuit

Posted: July 2, 2009 10:01 p.m.
Updated: July 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Just after midnight on the day before Father's Day, Lynn Whitaker, 56, heard a motorcycle racing up a nearby street.
Then came the sirens.

He went outside to find his youngest son, 25-year-old Shawn Whitaker, dying on the ground near the Newhall home where he grew up.

Whitaker had crashed a stolen motorcycle at more than 90 mph while fleeing California Highway Patrol officers trying to pull him over for speeding, officers said.

He died last week after spending six days comatose at a local hospital.

On Thursday, Whitaker's parents described the 2001 Hart High School graduate as an upbeat, funny and generous young man who had a good heart but struggled with addiction and run-ins with the law. He lived with his parents his whole life.

"He was just a happy-go-lucky, bubbly type kid. But he lived in the fast lane all the time," Lynn Whitaker said. "And that's where his downfall was."

He said his son had a record of nonviolent crimes and was on parole when he crashed.

About 12:30 a.m. on June 20, CHP officers started chasing Whitaker when they saw him speed by on Railroad Avenue in Newhall.

He turned onto Lyons Avenue and sped up to more than 90 mph, said Michelle Esposito, a CHP spokeswoman.

Near Wiley Canyon Road, "he ran two lights (and the officers) lost sight of the driver," Esposito said.

Moments later, he crashed in a nearby neighborhood, severely injuring his head.

The parents never left Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital while he was there.

They spent Father's Day there with their comatose son. The next day was Shawn Whitaker's 25th birthday.

"We slept in the waiting room that Friday night through the following Friday," said his mother, 56-year-old Nancy Whitaker. "We took over one waiting room and kind of made it ours. We had people bringing us flowers and balloons."

Doctors declared him brain-dead June 26. He is survived by two other brothers.

His mother said despite his faults, one of his last acts exemplified his generosity.

Whitaker had signed up to donate his organs. Doctors were able to harvest his skin, bone, veins and several other parts, she said.
"That's just so him," she said. "He would help anybody, at any time."

She said since his earliest days, her son was always on the move.

"His first day of preschool, he climbed the fence and went over to Thrifty's (store)," she said. "He loved life to the fullest, and he was such a prankster. ... This has just been such a horrific week for my entire family."

His father said Whitaker had been in and out of jail for a while, but things began to look up when he got a good job at a local fountain company.

He was fired after a year on the job in October, when he was jailed again for about a month on charges that were ultimately dropped, Lynn Whitaker said.

"He really liked that job," he said. "When he lost that job, a piece of him got lost.

"He just, I don't know, made a bad decision. It's been haunting me. I don't know why he ran, or anything like that," he said.
"He wasn't no angel, but, you know, he was still my kid."


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