When you drive along Mountain Pass Road in suburban Sabre Springs and you go by the two-story van Dam house, it’s difficult to believe that a few minutes before 8:30 on Friday night, February 1, 2002, 39-year-old Brenda van Dam was standing out in the garage attached to this home and lighting up a joint. It’s difficult to believe because these Mountain Pass Road houses seem like houses you live in if you are churchgoing, straight-arrow, family-values Republican respectable. Having fed takeout pizza to her 36-year-old husband, Damon, a Qualcomm software engineer, and their three children — 5-year-old Dylan, 7-year-old Danielle, and 10-year-old Derrick — Brenda was sharing the doobie with her friends Denise Kemal and Barbara Easton.
So what do you do when you’re stoned in a garage in Sabre Springs on a Friday night? You go somewhere else. Maybe a place where there is music and dancing, vodka and tequila, and spinning, stuttering colored lights.When you look around Dad’s Café and Steakhouse at 8:30 on a summer Friday evening, you can hardly believe this is the place where Brenda van Dam allegedly asked Cherokee Youngs, “Do you like girls?” You can hardly believe you might be sitting on a barstool where Brenda van Dam sat when she said, in reference to a couple whose names she didn’t know, “I wouldn’t mind taking these two home.”
Dad’s has the air of a landlocked beach bar. It is a big restaurant divided into rooms for dining, dancing, pool, pinball, and video games. You find fewer windows here than at a Denny’s or a Coco’s, but more windows than in what you would call a dive bar. It is less harshly lit than those places, but as with them, you can get breakfast anytime. You’ll find pictures of ballplayers like Babe Ruth on the walls, and you might find kids dining with their parents as late as 9:30 in the evening in one of the alcoves. It’s like a much larger version of Saska’s in Mission Beach, without the salt air. It’s the kind of bar where you’d have a drink during the day. Hardly an opium den. Not necessarily a staging area for pornographic activities. But sure, why not? It is no sleazier than a Black Angus and way less so than a Bully’s or the Butcher Shop. The atmosphere has a kind of twilight TGIF vibe; but it certainly seems no more likely to inspire the kidnapping and murder of a child than any other playground with a liquor license.
Anyone who’s recently read the newspapers, listened to the radio, or watched television knows about Dad’s, the Poway eatery and watering hole at 12735 Poway Road, where Brenda van Dam may or may not have lasciviously rubbed her hipbones and good-sized bosom against 50-year-old design engineer David Westerfield’s hulking frame. Dirty dancing is how it was described in the San Diego courtroom where California vs. Westerfield is now in its last days. Westerfield is alleged to have kidnapped and murdered the van Dams’ second-grader, Danielle. He is alleged to have committed these heinous deeds only hours after Brenda van Dam is described in court as “having her tail feathers up” and “acting frisky” and “acting huggy-huggy” on the dance floor at Dad’s.
From the June 7 Union-Tribune: “A day after he grilled Damon van Dam about the couple’s sexual and marijuana habits, [defense attorney Steven] Feldman did the same with Brenda van Dam, asking whether she had sex with her friends Barbara Easton and Denise Kemal and their husbands. She acknowledged that she had. She later admitted that she and her husband had sex with Kemal and Kemal’s husband, Andy, during a Halloween party in October 2000.”
But at 8:30 on this Friday evening at Dad’s, as smokers hunker over the seven tables in the glass-walled smoking section and moms and dads and kids linger over the cheesecake and hot-fudge brownie sundae in the red-cushioned banquettes and booths of the main room, it’s hard to imagine any of this. Folks are dressed in summertime gear: shorts and T-shirts, sandals, baseball hats. At one of the two pool tables, two guys in jeans and work boots lazily rack up the balls.
The dance floor — a 10- by 10-foot linoleum-covered area — waits empty. The floor is bordered by six tables and a bar ledge where, before the sun’s even gone down, three women in their 40s, wearing shorts and shirts, chat quietly with one another. Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” followed by Billy Idol’s remake of “Mony Mony” play in the background.
Across from the dance floor, a small bar hugged by a dozen stools makes an L. In the far corner stand more tables. Men in jeans and T-shirts, some older and balding, some young with enough hair to gather into ponytails, all looking somewhat bored and somewhat weary, tip back beers and watch ball games on TV monitors that are set in every corner. Along another wall are more booths and a door that leads to the kitchen. Waitresses will swing in and out of this door all night.
Dad’s Café bar manager Sean Brown, 32, has worked here for four years. He testified in California vs. Westerfield. He was at the bar on that Friday night of February 1, when the balding Westerfield, Brenda van Dam, Barbara Easton, and Denise Kemal were downing Cape Codders, playing pool, flirting with women and men, and walking out to the parking lot to Brenda van Dam’s SUV to toke a few joints.
“Dad’s,” says Mr. Brown, “has been here for one year and five months. Dad is Pat Lipe, the owner. I will be part owner in ten days. It got the name because Pat wanted a family-oriented place in Poway, and Dad’s is a conservative name you can trust, and it’s a conservative place. There isn’t a Mom’s yet. Before this it was Poway Grill and Spirits for a year, and then it was Comiskey Park for probably about seven, eight years. Dad doesn’t bartend. He’s more on the restaurant side, he knows the food.