By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Sometimes the fickle nature of life and death comes down to something as mundane as a $300 jacket.
One night in January 2003, Bakhtar offered to send a limousine to pick up Andrea and two of her friends to go swimming at his house. When Andrea came home early the next morning, she couldn't find her brand-new jacket.
"I had just bought it for her," Cator says. "I was so mad at her that she lost it. I told her I would never buy her anything again if she didn't find it."
On Jan. 26, Super Bowl Sunday, Cator and her daughter watched the game together. The following night, Cator says, Bakhtar called her house.
"I picked up the phone, and this guy asks for Andrea." Cator passed the telephone to her daughter. After a brief conversation, Andrea told Cator that Bakhtar "has my jacket and said to come get it at 8:30 p.m. because he has a meeting."
Cator told Andrea she could go to Bakhtar's house to retrieve her jacket but made her promise to come straight home. Andrea brought her cell phone with her. Cator called her daughter at about 9 p.m. Andrea had just arrived and told her mom she had the jacket and was leaving in five minutes.
"I called again five minutes later, and she said she was leaving right away," Cator says. "I called again at 9:20 p.m., and her phone rang and rang and rang. That's when I panicked. I kept calling." Cator left her message after message, each one a variation on a theme: "'Hurry up! Where are you? Come home!' But she never called back."
In a city notorious for image consciousness, it's fitting that the first person visitors to Newport Beach's Hoag Hospital are likely to see is a handsome young valet dressed in a white overcoat. Shawn Smith was a valet working the night shift on Jan. 27, 2003. The first thing he noticed when Homayan Bakhtar pulled up to the emergency-room entrance was that the girl in the passenger seat wasn't moving. She was beautiful, young, with long blond hair, casually dressed in a brown sweater, blue jeans and white tennis shoes. She was slumped over in the passenger seat of a silver Ford Focus. The driver, a man twice her age, said she had passed out in the car just minutes earlier.
Smith grabbed a wheelchair. He pulled the unconscious girl out of the car. He immediately noticed that she seemed lifeless. Her body was cold to the touch. He rushed her to the emergency room.
A team of doctors and nurses spent 20 minutes trying to bring the girl back to life. But they were too late. She wasn't breathing and had no pulse. At 11:59 p.m. that night, just four days after her 20th birthday, Andrea Nelson was dead.
Bakhtar lingered outside the emergency room. He was still there shortly after midnight, when Newport Beach police officer Ryan Reilly arrived at the hospital, responding to a call from the emergency room. Reilly asked Bakhtar what had happened.
Bakhtar said Andrea had stopped by his house that evening, hoping to retrieve some clothing she had left there a week or so earlier. He added that Andrea had made several phone calls at his house, and that her cell phone had run out of batteries. They had sex, Bakhtar said, and then they left to check on a drainage problem at a Westminster apartment complex owned by his brother.
On the way, Bakhtar claimed, Andrea "began to yawn several times and laid her seat back," Officer Reilly wrote. "Bakhtar told me he continued to drive for approximately 10 minutes without talking to Nelson."
Finally, Bakhtar said, he tried to wake Nelson, but she was "unresponsive." That's when Bakhtar said he became "concerned" and took Nelson to Hoag Hospital. Bakhtar told Officer Reilly that "Nelson told him several times in the past she was a heavy cocaine user. Bakhtar said he did not see Nelson use any cocaine or drink any alcohol at his house."
Toward the end of their conversation, Bakhtar told Reilly that when he first met Andrea, she was dating Johar. He said he didn't know Johar personally, but as a patron of Mr. J's, he knew who he was.
After calling the police, hospital officials turned her body over to the Orange County coroner's office, which performed an autopsy and toxicology report the next morning. Official cause of death: accidental overdose of cocaine and methamphetamines.
Early the next morning, Newport Beach police detective Will Yourex searched Bakhtar's home. Inside a shoebox in a closet, Yourex found a glass pipe for smoking meth. In another shoebox, he found 5 grams of marijuana. A woman's bra lay on the floor, partially hidden beneath window curtains. In the medicine cabinet in Bakhtar's bathroom, Yourex found three bottles of clear liquid; they later tested positive for butane diol and gamma-butrylolactone. The two chemicals are also known as gamma hydroxy butyrate, or GHB, the date-rape drug.
Sandra de la Fuente knew nothing of Andrea Nelson when, four days later, she took a seat in a courtroom at Orange County Superior Court. In a few minutes, the woman who had killed her husband would be sentenced on charges of vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving with gross negligence. Because Piho had prior arrests for drunk driving and, several months after the accident, had been arrested for being under the influence of meth during a probation search at her home, the Orange County Probation Department had recommended she be sent to state prison.