Runaway Train

Tricia Sullivan fled her Southern Oregon hometown and the confines of her family in April. Arriving in San Francisco, she melded with the street community of young castoffs, misfits, and rebels. Phoning home, she lied and told her dad she was in New Yor

"This town has been on the skids for years," says a frowning reporter from the local newspaper, the Herald and News. "It was fairly affluent at one time, from timber-related activities, but now that that's gone, the economy is depressed. You have to work to stay here, 'cause the winters are hard and you have to travel just to get anyplace. But that's the Oregon ethos, you know - the pioneer spirit."

"Children are born here, raised here, educated here, and then go off to make their fortunes," he continues. "There's not much to bring them back besides Dad's farm."

The story of Klamath Falls is the story of the teen-age wasteland, of blunted hopes and downward mobility. There were more than 200 reported runaways from Klamath County last year. The suicide rates are even more distrubing: Teen-agers in Oregon and California kill themselves at a rate 100 percent greater than the national average. And KlamathCounty's suicide rate in 1992 was 30 percent higher than the alarming state figure.

That's the reason why we - my roommate Erika and I - are here: to find out why a teen-age girl would flee her family and friends and sleepy hometown for the mean streets of San Francisco.

This is what we know so far: "Stevie" was actually 15-year-old Tricia Sullivan of Klamath Falls. She ran away with a friend sometime in early April, hitting Eugene, Ore., for a spell before making her way to San Francisco. She renamed herself after her favorite uncle, 28-year-old Steve Sullivan. She hung out in the Haight and Castro, showered at the Larkin Street Youth Center, couch-surfed or crashed at squats, experimented with hard drugs, and frequented the Horse Shoe Coffeehouse in the Lower Haight.

According to police reports, in the early a.m. of the May morning she died, Tricia tooled arounf Castro Street with some friends, including a mohawked "druid" sometimes called Death, aka 23-year-old Martin Androus. Accompanying them was "Galaxy," a 16-year-old self-described "rad nonracist skinhead dyke." (Because Galaxy is a juvenile, she has been given a pseudonym.) According to police reports, the conversation turned to various methods of committing suicide.

Between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., the trio made its way to back to the Dolores Street Baptist Church squat near 14th Street, where Tricia had occasionally slept. the 92-year-old church had been an eyesore since 1993, when a fire roared through it, gutting the sacristy and altar. The roof had caved in. Wooden planks were nailed across the main entrance and windows; trash littered the front yard. The charred skeleton of the bell tower remained, an obscene reminder of the church's former beauty. Only the ground floor, black as a pit and crawling with rats, was left intact.

Later that morning, another squatter, "Hurricane" Frank Rouse, 33, was overheard in the nearby Muni station at Church and Market "bragging about some type of homicide or suicide" that had occurred that morning, according to an SFPD report. A police officer was summoned to talk to Rouse, who said that Androus and Galaxy had participated in the death of a young woman at the squat. Sgt. Steve Johnson was dispatched to the scene, where according to the police report, he woke Androus and Galaxy from their slumber to arrest them.

That's the detail that hit me in the solar plexus when I first read about the killing in the Chronicle. Not the occult imagery that accompanied the killing, which Androus called an assisted suicide, nor the fact that Androus said it took them 20 mintues to choke the life out of Tricia - as stated in the police report - nor even the fact that the two were released within 72 hours of the arrest because their confessions weren't "legally admissible," as the Examiner later reported. They went to sleep.

"It was eerie to me," Sgt. Johnson says. "They acted like there was absolutely nothing wrong."

As Erika and I drink giant sodas in a Klamath Falls convenience store parking lot, a convertible lowrider pulls up beside our rental car. A Playboy bunny air freshener hangs from the rearview mirror and naked-lady mud flaps protect the back whitewall tires. We stare incredulously at the long-haired, tatooed passengers. The driver is inserting brown nubs of what looks like tar heroin into his mouth, pushing them against his cheeks with his tongue. It's broad daylight. He catches my eye.

"Puta," he laughs.
The reason Erika is spending her weekend carting me around a tiny Oregon town is because six years ago, her teen-age sister OD'd. Her friends, high and afraid of involving the police, waited an hour before they called 911. By the time the paramedics arrived, it was too late to save her.

I am bound to Tricia's tale by my own family tragedy. Seven years ago, my first cousin Michael trekked toa pharmacy eight blocks from my grandmother's house and fired a gun into his mouth. He was 17; I was away at college and suffering from debilitating depression myself. When the phone call came, I didn't cry or get angry or throw up. I mumbled something insanely insensitive to the effect of, "Well, if he was that unhappy, it's probably better that he died." I might as well have gone to sleep.

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