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Crash details draw tragic similarities

A pair of fatalities behind the wheel leaves investigators with few clues in elderly drivers’ disapp

Posted: April 22, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: April 22, 2012 1:30 a.m.
 

The case of an 87-year-old Arleta man found dead next to his car off a remote Acton road last week is strikingly similar to that of an 88-year-old man who died after driving his car off a remote Castaic canyon road last fall.

In both cases, investigators are unable to explain what the drivers were doing alone on winding Santa Clarita Valley canyon roads apparently far from their destinations.

Thomas George Dennis lived alone in a boxy home on Roslyndale Avenue in Arleta not far from Interstate 5.

“He left his home in Arleta and was getting his taxes done by a lady in Sun Valley,” said California Highway Patrol Lt. Antonio Caballero, who is investigating Dennis’ death.

His Sun Valley destination was about three miles from his home, which he left the evening of April 13.

“She said ‘Goodbye’ to him and watched him get into his car” following the tax session, Caballero said of the Sun Valley resident.

“He then drove up the 14 and ended up on Escondido (Canyon Road),” some 35 miles away from his San Fernando Valley home, the lieutenant said.

Dennis’ car, a 2003 Pontiac Grand Prix, was found Monday morning in a shallow ravine amid heavy brush off Escondido Canyon Road and Highway 14. It could not be seen from either the freeway or the roadway.

After the vehicle left the road and rolled over, “We think he crawled out of his car and died of the injuries,” Caballero said. “And we think he was on the roadway for at least 12 hours before he was found.”

“He had been missing for two days,” Caballero said.

The crash site was discovered by a person out walking a dog.

In September, the body of Melvin Gelfand, of West Los Angeles, was found at the bottom of a ravine off Lake Hughes Road.

Gelfand had been missing for two weeks.

The 88-year-old, who lived with his wife, Lillian, told her he was going to take a bus from Hawthorne to a casino in San Diego, according to relatives.

Relatives told The Signal at the time that it appeared Gelfand went north instead of south.

Gelfand’s body wasn’t discovered at the bottom of the 200-foot-deep ravine until another motorist, David La Vau, 67, went off Lake Hughes Road at the same location.

La Vau, who lived in Lake Hughes, survived a week eating bugs and leaves before family members, alarmed by his disappearance, found him with the help of a private detective.

Shortly after that, the man’s relatives embarked on a public campaign to ensure elderly drivers have a cellphone with them so they can be found if something similar happens to them.

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