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Something Fishy at the Beach

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So, today, we wanted to celebrate the end of summer with a day at the beach followed by a bonfire. The place to do that in the in the City is Dockweiler Beach at the end of Imperial Highway and LAX - one of the only beaches in the region with fire pits. We got there early in the day to reserve a prime pit and free parking on the street (and not have to pay seven dollars in the County lot). We arrived before noon and spent the day in and out of sun and rain. The night drew near after a magnificent red, orange, yellow, grey and black sunset sky, and our fire raged on. We roasted marshmallows and cooked hotdogs (for some, in that order!), and we tried to win the unspoken competition of creating the largest fire in the pit with the pallets we’d collected and disassembled throughout the day. As the fire finally died down, we relaxed on blankets on the sand as the sunburn of the previous six hours started to sting. We got to our cars before the 10pm parking restriction to avoid a ticket. It was a great day to end the summer.

Going to Dockweiler, though, is truly an experience. The frequent interruption of jets so-close-you-think-you-can-touch-them speeding out over the ocean or the buzz of a helicopter along the coast fill the sky. The people at the beach represent all kinds of people. As one walks along the fire pits, parties of every ethnicity are represented - it was the melting pot of LA at the fire pits of Dockweiler. There was never a dull moment with a beach filled with characters. Families, couples, groups of friends, and individuals were the entertainment of the day. A man with a metal detector for hours in the same area. An extreme senior citizen with his skiing poles do a quick-walk across the sand. People of all shapes and sizes created for quite the menagerie of visual stimulation - from good to bad.

But one thing was extremely peculiar today.

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As we say midday on the sand between stints in the water, we noticed a young teenaged kid approach an adjacent fire pit. We thought nothing of it. Then, he proceeded to light the fire with some papers. Typical pyromaniac teenager, we thought - getting a head start on an evening fire because it was a weekend. He again caught our eye as he battled the wind to get his kindling of paper to light and not blow out of the fire pit. At about this time, we noticed a woman who appeared to be his mother approach with a laundry basket full of papers. She spoke in some language that could either have been Portuguese or Ukrainian or some sort of eastern European language. From the short distance we sat ,we knew it wasn't English. She told him things and began, as well, to feed the fire with papers. They were regular sized sheets of paper with something writing on it. When the wind would pick up, they aggressively went after any stray sheets, apprehending them all and letting none escape. We were intrigued by what they were burning and why it was so important. As the teenager burned papers and kept the fire going, the mother started to become impatient and merely tore handfuls of the sheets in half and then tossed them into the adjacent barrel. We all were now truly compelled to find out what they were doing.

They had let one sheet escape their clutches , and while tossing the Frisbee around, we retrieved the sheet. What we saw made us think they might have really been up to something. The sheet had all the details of a patient of some medical clinic including Social Security Number, date of birth, address, and Medicare number. It was signed off by a woman with a Polish or Russian last name and was dated from 2005. Why would they - a mother and son - be burning sheets like this? Why not just use a shredder if the records are obsolete? Then, when they had moved over to the water for a while (and taken all of their belongings with them), I looked into the trash can where the woman had just dumped the remaining sheets and saw medical records and duplicates of intake forms for hundreds of people. All their vital information was listed, as well as what was wrong with them and/or a diagnosis and some of the dates on the forms and pages were as recent as earlier this year. This information could not have been just recycled paper they brought with them as kindling for a fire in the afternoon, as they never had any other materials. They left about an hour after they arrived; their apparent mission completed.

So, if you happen right now upon a fire pit near lifeguard tower 52 and look into the trash can next to the pit, you can find the personal and medical information of hundreds of Angelenos. What was this woman trying to cover up or dispose of?

Photo by sparkerawk via Flickr