Lakeside has tried desperately to overcome its redneck image, and it has, to a certain extent. There is plenty of new development in the city, bringing more middle-class families who want to escape an increasingly urban San Diego. Telling your friends you would like to live in a rural setting sounds so much nicer than “white flight.” Even with an influx of new families into the East County gene pool, the backwardness of many of its residents is still evident. Racist hicks are a familiar sight and the annual Lakeside rodeo brings out the rednecks like moths to a bug light.
A stroll down some Lakeside lanes can be almost as dangerous as Southeast San Diego, if you happen to be a minority, or maybe look just a little “faggy.” Make eye contact with any group of guys surrounding a pickup truck and you can expect to be greeted with a friendly, “What the fuck are you looking at? That’s right, you better look away before I kick your ass.” Mix that with a few beers behind the wheel while taking the back roads home, a Lakeside pastime that results in a number of fatalities each year. And by the way, where do you think that crystal meth you bought came from? I can hear you asking, “How do I find the place?”
Crystal Methamphetamine: In the mid-’80s, San Diego was known as the meth capital of the world. A majority of the clandestine labs were in the rural areas of Lakeside, and so were the tweakers. The problem was so bad that drug agents could find labs just by hanging out in the parking lot of a chemical-supply store and following the customers home.
It just so happened that two of the biggest rogue chemical-supply stores were in Lakeside. The difference between a rogue store and an ethical store is an ethical store keeps records of who buys chemicals and supplies that could be used to make meth and reports suspicious sales to the police. Rogue chemical suppliers willingly sell chemicals to cookers and don’t bother to keep records of purchases, which could be used by police.
The chemical sold most by the suppliers was ephedrine, which is used in cold-suppressant medicine. Ephedrine is also the main ingredient in meth, making it the anytime-can’t-shut-your-mouth-so-you-can-stay-up-for-three-days medicine. During this time the rogue stores were getting rich off ephedrine sales.
When he went to trial in 1989, ephedrine sales made Robert Miskinis the “King of Meth,” according to the DEA. He was arrested for selling equipment and chemicals needed to produce methamphetamine at his Lakeside chemical-supply store, RIM Laboratories Inc.
He was convicted of seven counts of aiding and abetting in the making of methamphetamine and two counts of aiding in interstate travel in aid of racketeering. Miskinis was sentenced to 40 years in prison and was fined $250,000. The government also confiscated over $1 million worth of property.
It wasn’t his first run-in with the law. He was also convicted in 1978 on methamphetamine trafficking charges. At the time he boasted to DEA agent Bill Youts that he was going to make millions by selling the chemicals needed to make crystal.
Throughout the trial Miskinis claimed he did not believe he was doing anything illegal because while he was open for business, his lawyer assured him that selling chemicals and supplies was within the law.
Even though he was busted, Miskinis had the last laugh. He was released in May in settlement with the San Diego U.S. Attorney’s Office, the same office that sent him to prison. He was freed because of his allegation that his trial lawyer, John Mitchell, told him that it was legal to sell his chemical supplies. He was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser drug charge and a judge sentenced him to the time he had already served, which was less than four years. The attorney’s office also must repay Miskinis $450,000 from the sale of over $ 1 million worth of property it had confiscated and sold.
Miskinis wasn’t the only person to realize the possibility of huge profit in the chemical-supply business. The government also became a dealer of ephedrine from 1986 to 1989. The DEA opened a supply store in Lakeside — appropriately calling it Triple Neck, which is a three-necked flask that can accommodate a condenser, thermometer, and stirring spoon while cooking meth — for a sting operation.
Triple Neck was run by a private citizen (his identity has been kept secret by the DEA) who had first approached the DEA with the idea of opening up a chemical-supply store to catch would-be meth cookers. Business was slow at first, but once the other rogue chemical suppliers, such as RIM Laboratory, were shut down, business began to boom. It was so busy the federal agents couldn't keep up with surveillance. In fact, it was so busy the government boys sold 610 pounds of ephedrine that they never recovered when they made their busts. In other words, the DEA sold enough ephedrine to make $5 million worth of speed that found its way onto the streets.
The informant was also allowed to keep all profits from his sales that led to the arrests.
The sting was called “Operation Crankcase,” a pun on the word crank. When it came time to make arrests, 350 federal and local agents made sweeps for 94 people listed in a federal indictment. Since the crackdown on chemical suppliers, San Diego has dropped from first to third place in the nation for meth production. Leave it to the government to wreck our national standing. Because of the huge amounts of crystal being produced in East County, the number of crimes related to the drug— whether they involved sales or being under the influence — began to jam El Cajon’s courts.
Two crimes by Lakeside residents stand out as particularly brutal. Elmer Curtis, 31, was convicted in 1989 of shooting and killing his two-year-old daughter while in a methamphetamine rage. He was given the maximum sentence of eight years.
A more recent crime was the beating of Matthew Scott Hahn with a golf club at Emerald Junior High in El Cajon (1221 Emerald Avenue) by Daniel Houston Hembree, 22, of Lakeside in May 1993.
The two met at Maverick’s to drink some beer and shoot some pool. They left together to buy more beer and some crystal. They stopped at the school to take a whiz when Hembree suddenly attacked Hahn with a nine iron. He took Hahn’s ID and money and left him for dead.
Teachers found Hahn unconscious the next day. Doctors had to operate for eight hours, and he remained unconscious for four days.
Hembree worked out a deal and pleaded guilty of attempted voluntary manslaughter, and was sentenced to sue years in prison. In court, Hembree cried as he asked the judge for leniency. “I would do anything to take that night back,” he said. During the trial, the prosecution suggested that Hembree’s motive was jealousy. He saw Hahn leave Maverick’s the night before with his girlfriend Hembree’s father was quoted that his son confessed to having a meth problem four months before the crime. Hembree had been tweaking since he was 17.I bet that cut down on the parents’ grocery bill quite a bit.
Bikers: Another group that is prominent in East County is the Hell’s Angels. Guy Castiglione, 42, a Lakeside resident, was president of the San Diego chapter of the Hell’s Angels at the time of his arrest. He was arrested May 13, 1989, with his 24-year-old live-in girlfriend, Kathleen Rebecca Pirelli, with two pounds of crystal at the Border Patrol checkpoint near Temecula on Interstate 15. The agent at the checkpoint said he smelled the meth and sent them to the secondary checkpoint, where they found the drug in Pirelli’s purse. Castiglione was sentenced to five years in prison with a $100,000 fine. U.S. District Judge John S. Rhoades also placed him on five years of supervised release when he leaves prison. The prosecution was especially happy with the large fine because at the time, Castiglione was to inherit his father’s estate, valued at $1 million.
Drunk Drivers: Driving under the influence is a common pastime in Lakeside. The parking lot at Maverick’s bar, on the border between Santee and Lakeside, is packed every weekend, and it’s safe (or would that be “unsafe”?) to assume those people are going to drive home.
The problem with drunk drivers is they tend to run into things, sometimes injuring or killing themselves, but even worse, they sometimes kill or injure innocent people.
Not that any drunk-driving fatality is any less tragic than another, but the most prominent drunk-driving accident in Lakeside is the October 8 death of off-duty SDPD sergeant Steve Santi, 31, by an alleged drunk driver on Highway 67. While riding his motorcycle in the northbound lane Santi was killed by Leovardo Aguirre, who allegedly crossed into the northbound lane at 80 mph. Aguirre is charged with second-degree murder and felony drunk driving.
El Capitan High School: (10410 Ashwood) It’s no secret that America’s high schools are nothing more than human factories where kids are forced to regurgitate facts instead of being taught to think critically. Students are released from their four-year sentence and expected to become functioning adults overnight.
Some don’t make it. Steve Perdue didn’t. He graduated from El Cap in 1989 to become a full-time loser. In the early morning of January 24, 1990, Perdue, 18, returned to school, but not as a student. He walked outside the door to the principal’s office, took out a handgun, and killed himself with a gunshot to the head. He was found before school started and police roped off the area to keep students away. The janitors were bummed.
Another El Capitan student had a thing for guns, but rather than turn it on herself, she put her father in the crosshairs. Laurie Berke, 19, and her father David, a firefighter, lived on Manila Drive in Lakeside. David struggled hard to raise his daughter after his divorce from her mother, and it’s unknown why she shot him. Her father was working in the back yard October 22,1990, when Laurie pointed the .22 caliber rifle at him and shot him in the neck. She called 911 and gave her father cardiopulmonary resuscitation until the ambulance arrived. No explanation was offered for the shooting. Her attorney told reporters that the only excuse Laurie offered was, “Is it wrong to want someone to pay attention to you?” The rumors around the school were that she shot her father because he made her dress like a boy.
Some of El Capitan’s students had a future. Take Faith Bowers for instance. She was a pretty blonde cheerleader and was voted “best hair” her senior year. One day while driving home from school she lost control of her car and hit and killed Alice Menard, 59, who was standing in front of her mailbox at 13027 Mapleview. Bowers was 16 at the time. The town was devastated. Menard was a nationally known gardener who had appeared in several national gardening magazines and on television for her expertise in gardening. Every year hundreds of visitors and tourists would visit her flower garden. Whether Bowers was charged with any crimes couldn’t be determined because she was a minor at the time.
Lakeside Hotel: (River Street, downtown Lakeside) This historic hotel, built in 1887, has served as a boarding house, grocery store, post office, headquarters for a stagecoach line, and finally a hotel in 1906. In the late ’80s it was transformed into a biker bar and a flophouse.
Fights and stabbings were common. The upstairs rooms were rented out for $210 per month. In 1988 the owner announced renovation plans, but nothing ever amounted to anything.
Lindo Lake: Most of Lindo Lake is nice, with lots of grass and ducks, but on the north side of the lake near the parking lot is a small ditch where future generations of white trash like to hangout, drink malt liquor, and smoke pot and GPC cigarettes. The day we took our trip through Lakeside, we found two dirts, Brent, 16, and Russell, 17, who has several cheap tattoos, including a swastika on his right arm. Both were drinking St. Ides malt liquor at 3:00 p.m. Brent said he was spending his summer in school and doing community service for a drunk-in-public ticket. Russell sells weed, but not on a large scale. “I smoke more than I sell,” he said. They complained that there wasn’t enough for the youth to do in Lakeside, so that’s why they spend a lot of time hanging out at Lindo Lake. “Santee is lucky because they have the roller rink. We don’t have anything,” Russell said. Be nice and pimp beer for Brent and Russell.
Visitation from God: (Maine Avenue) It’s obvious by the marquee that the church once was a movie theater. “Visitation from od” waits for the Lord to appear to replace the missing G. This church brings back the hell and brimstone that you just don’t see anymore. Bishop R.F.. Sommerville is a Wolfman lack look-alike, so you know he can deliver the goods. A faded bulletin board outside the church advertises it as “Old Time Revival Spirit Filled,” with pictures of people waving their arms and singing just like they used to do at the 19th-century tent revivals. Stroll in on a Sunday in your favorite Slayer T-shirt and ask if someone is available to teach you how to speak in tongues.