Category: Oakland Tribune / Argus

Blaze at Hair Salon Possible Homicide-Suicide Attempt

Girl, Father Badly Hurt in Newark: Police Consider Blaze at Hair Salon Possible Homicide-Suicide Attempt

NEWARK — A day after a fire at a hair salon severely injured a man and his 7-year-old daughter, police are investigating the possibility that the 51-year-old man set the fire intentionally in an attempt to kill them both.

“Talk about ghoulish and hideous,” Newark police Capt. Lance Morrison said Wednesday. “Right around Christmastime. It just doesn’t add up. All the officers at the scene were shaking their heads.”

Ching Chi, a Fremont resident with a significant criminal record, suffered second- and third-degree burns to about 80 percent of his body, police said. He was listed in critical condition Wednesday.

His daughter also suffered burns and from smoke inhalation. She was transferred to intensive care at Shriners Hospital in Sacramento and was reported in critical condition. Her condition Wednesday was unavailable.

“The percentage of her body damaged by the fire wasn’t as high as the father’s, but the burns she did sustain were very significant,” Morrison
said.

About 1:50 a.m. Tuesday, Newark police and fire personnel responded to alarms from the businesses flanking World Hair Design in a shopping center near Highway 84 anchored by a Raley’s grocery store.

Three fire engines, almost a dozen firefighters and two ambulances responded to the blaze, fire officials said.

When they arrived, plumes of smoke were billowing from the hair salon, at 6263 Jarvis Ave. Two neighboring businesses, Sweet Zone and Venus Bakery, also sustained damage and were closed Wednesday.

Friends and nearby merchants say Chi once co-owned the hair salon with 34- year-old Kyung Choi, the mother of their 7-year-old daughter. Choi still owns the business. A friend of Choi’s said the couple broke up more than a year ago.

By 1999, they had been together for more than 10 years and were living together in Union City, according to court records. Choi now lives in Newark.

It is unclear whether they ever were formally married, police said. The couple shared custody of the daughter, who was staying with her father Monday night, police said.

The couple’s relationship was troubled.

In November 2002, Chi was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon and spousal abuse — both felonies — after attacking Choi with a hammer in the salon, Morrison said. She suffered traumatic injuries. A friend of Choi’s said he wrapped the hammer in a towel and bludgeoned her several times, leaving defensive bruises on her arm and elsewhere.

In July 1999, Chi was placed on three years’ probation for possessing two unlicensed, loaded handguns, according to court records.

On Wednesday, friends of the former couple said Chi was trying to get back at his ex-girlfriend for breaking up with him and taking control of the business by destroying himself, their daughter and the store.

“I can definitely say that that’s one of the things we are looking at,” Morrison said, though he added, “There’s a myriad of potential
circumstances.”

Police said a petroleum-based substance was found in the building after the fire was extinguished but had no more details.

Glass shards litter the floor of the scorched store, its windows covered with newspapers. Sheetrock was sheared off at least one of the bowed-out walls, a fire official said.

Board President Abruptly Quits Amid Conflict-of-Interest Questions

Board President Abruptly Quits: McDonald cites family reasons; she faced conflict-of-interest questions from
fellow trustees

NEWARK — School board President Eileen McDonald announced her resignation Tuesday, abruptly ending 13 years of service to the district.

McDonald’s resignation, effective July 1, came almost three months after some of her colleagues on the board raised conflict-of-interest questions regarding the district and the travel agency she owns. The board has no more meetings scheduled in June.

For years, the school district has been a customer of the Travel Store and has paid the business $66,379 during the past four years, according to an Argus investigation in May.

McDonald said Tuesday night that their misgivings only partially influenced her decision to leave.

“It’s time to spend some time with my family,” she said, adding that she will be spending a lot of time in Los Angeles visiting relatives.

McDonald, 53, chose to resign effective July 1 to help the board avoid spending money for a special election.

If she had waited until August, the district would not have been able to fill the vacancy by putting an election on the less-expensive November ballot.

“You try to go out with a little class,” she said.

In March, Trustee Janice Schaefer mentioned concerns — shared by other board members — about the Travel Store at a meeting, but refrained from discussing the issue in public afterward. Sources say this was to avoid impugning the entire district before residents voted on a June 3 parcel tax, which lost by a wide margin.

McDonald has seen some pivotal moments at the district, including the voters’ passage of a $66 million facilities bond in 1997. She has worked with three superintendents — Ruben Petersen, Jerry Trout and Ken Sherer, who will retire June 30.

After her announcement at the beginning of the meeting, McDonald sat in the audience for a while before leaving in the middle of the meeting.

Trustee Ray Rodriguez offered kind words.

“I appreciate the years you’ve given to the community,” he said. “We’re better off because of you.”

None of the other trustees followed suit.

Just before McDonald left the building, Carol Viegelmann, who retired after this year as principal of Kennedy Elementary School, told McDonald the announcement surprised her.

But Sherer said he had known that McDonald’s “commitment to her family” would cause her to resign soon.

“She is a bubbly person,” he said. “She always brought life to a meeting.”

McDonald said it is time for her to move out of the public arena.

“No matter what you do, there is always something people can question,” she said. “The more you are out in the public eye, the more of you there is to show.

“I cried during the pledge, because I knew it was my last time,” she said. “I said ‘I pledge allegiance,’ and then I cried for the rest.”

School Board President’s Travel Agency Took Payments From School District

Board Probes Conflict Issue: In past 4 years, district has paid $66,379 to board President Eileen McDonald’s Travel Store
NEWARK — School board trustees are questioning the district’s longtime practice of doing business with board President Eileen McDonald’s travel agency, about a week after The Argus began investigating the issue.

In a 2-2 vote, with McDonald abstaining, the board Tuesday failed to pass a normally routine bill warrant that included a $92 check to the Travel Store, an agency owned and operated by McDonald. Passage requires a majority vote.

The board then voted to approve the rest of the items on the warrant, a monthly mass of checks that requires board approval.

Trustees also agreed to seek legal counsel and schedule a workshop on the matter.

During the past four years, the district has paid $66,379 to the Travel Store, according to documents obtained by The Argus. District staff members said attaining information from previous years is difficult because the district changed its financial software four years ago.

McDonald on Tuesday cited several reasons why she feels there is no conflict of interest. For example, she does not profit on the transactions, she said. For years, airlines have been cutting travel-agent commissions, and most airlines eliminated commissions altogether after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Still, some of her colleagues are questioning whether doing business with McDonald’s agency is appropriate.

“As a matter of record, I have misgivings about this,” Trustee Janice Schaefer said. “This looks as if there is an impropriety.”

Schaefer and Trustee Charlie Mensinger voted against approving the original warrant. Trustees Ray Rodriguez and Nancy Thomas voted for it.

In 1995, attorneys opined that the arrangement “does not appear to be a legal conflict of interest,” but it “may result in the appearance of impropriety.”

However, McDonald — who has served on the board since 1990 — must “abstain from votes regarding the payment of her warrants,” according to the attorneys, Gregory Dannis and Claudia Madrigal. According to district minutes, McDonald has not always abstained.

On Aug. 20, 2002, for instance, all five board members approved a bill warrant that included two checks to the Travel Store totalling $2,417,
according to the minutes.

One check paid for a trip to Santa Barbara, taken by then-high school principal Patty Christa, administrator Mike Pittner and teachers James Proffitt and Tanh Huynh.

The other check paid for a flight from Denver for renowned author and literacy expert Ellin Keene, who came to the district to train literacy
coordinators and teachers, a literacy coordinator said.

California law stipulates that elected officials “shall not be financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity.”

Wes Stewart, assistant superintendent of business, said because the district never signed a contract with McDonald, there doesn’t appear to be a legal conflict of interest.

“But I’m not a lawyer,” he added.

Government code 1090 also stipulates that elected officials shall not “be purchasers at any sale or vendors at any purchase made by them in their official capacity.”

In statements of economic interests — forms that elected officials are required to file — McDonald has checked the “no reportable interests” box in both 1999 and 2003. District staff members could not locate other forms.

Officials at the Fair Political Practices Commission would not comment about the specifics of the case.

McDonald could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but an employee at the Travel Store relayed a message from her:

“She didn’t understand the concerns the other (board) members had since there has been a legal opinion on file for years stating that there was no conflict of interest,” she said. “Maybe (board members) who had concerns about conflict of interest could have checked with the superintendent’s office about that or talked to her directly. But no one talked to her about it.”

On Tuesday, Schaefer pulled the item off the consent calendar — a cluster of items passed simultaneously — so the board could discuss the matter. McDonald said at the meeting she intended to pull the item herself.

The board then voted to seek legal counsel and schedule a workshop on the matter. A workshop date has not been set.

“The governmental codes are very complicated, and it is critical that we have constant workshops on the interpretation of those codes,” Superintendent Ken Sherer said Wednesday. “Board members as well as most educators are here to serve kids and we do not have a lot of training in the legal areas. … (Workshops) keep us out of emotional conflict.”

McDonald said she has stopped doing business with the district because the district sometimes does not reimburse her in a timely fashion.

The check in question had to do with a $92 charge to change the name of a ticket holder. McDonald told the board she used a credit card to pay the fee months ago, but was not reimbursed. After she called Stewart to ask where her check was, he agreed to process the check and put it on the bill warrant, he said.

Somehow, though, the check was issued twice. One check was canceled and the other went before the board for authorization Tuesday. McDonald said she was doing a favor for the district, because most travel agencies insist on payment before a trip is taken.

But that did not convince several trustees.

Thomas requested the board seek advice from legal counsel, which staff members have agreed to do. McDonald then stated, “We have a legal document already,” referring to the attorney’s letter.

“My understanding is that’s about eight years’ old,” Thomas said.

“But the law hasn’t changed,” McDonald replied.

Rodriguez later made a motion to approve the original bill warrants, but trustees were hesitant to second it.

When business manager Stewart offered the opinion that the board would be abiding by the spirit of the law so long as McDonald recused herself, Thomas seconded the motion.

“I would never, never vote on an issue because of monetary gain,” McDonald said. “I say that from my heart.”

FRAUD ALLEGATION: Former head of Newark chamber is arrested

Copley to be arraigned in embezzlement case on Monday

NEWARK — John Copley, the former head of the Chamber of Commerce who resigned under pressure in September, was arrested Friday on suspicion of grand theft and embezzlement from the chamber, police said.

Copley, 39, who was arrested after a nearly four-month investigation, was being held at Santa Rita county jail. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday afternoon, a jail official said.

Although police would not say how much money is involved, one official said it could be between $15,000 and $50,000.

“The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office will review the investigation to determine the appropriate charges to be filed,” police Lt. Tom Milner said.

Bail was set at $50,000, Milner said.

Copley, who police say has been living in San Jose, had not been released as of 7 p.m. Friday, a jail official said.

Copley surrendered voluntarily at the Newark Police Station, where he was arrested at noon, Milner said.

Police began investigating the finances of the chamber in October 2002 when chamber officials realized there was a money shortage.

The chamber — which, according to a balance sheet obtained by ANG Newspapers had $144,000 in cash assets in May 2000 — was more than $4,000 in debt as of last month, said then-chairwoman Gwen Helbush. In addition, the organization owes at least two years’ worth of federal and state taxes, she said.

Copley’s arrest can start the healing process at the chamber, said police Capt. Mark Yokoyama, who has been appointed to serve as the chamber’s temporary spokesman.

“It allows us to put closure to a very sad part of chamber history,” he said. “And it now allows us to move in and bring back the chamber to the higher status it deserves to be at.”

The arrest, he added, may allow the chamber to reclaim some of the funds it has lost.

“Hopefully, through the court process, there will be some sort of restitution offered,” he said.

Another chamber member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “I’m told (police) were so careful because they wanted to make this thing stick. … I’m ecstatic.”

Copley could not be reached for comment. Two days before his resignation, he said he had not done anything illegal.

“If I was doing something wrong or illegal with all this coming up, I would have been out of here and gone,” he said.

Shortly after Copley started working at the chamber on April 1, 2000, he changed his title from executive director to president and chief executive officer. The bylaws were rewritten, listing the president/CEO — Copley — as the treasurer.

In June 2002, disgruntled chamber members began sending mass e-mails containing concerns about various issues, including money, Copley’s title as treasurer and his successful drive to change the name of the chamber to the North Silicon Valley Newark Chamber of Commerce.

On Jan. 15, members voted to change the name back to the Newark Chamber of Commerce. They also passed a new set of bylaws that create a separate treasurer position.

The next day, the chamber accepted the city’s offer of up to $30,000, plus a year of free rent of a city-owned building — amounting to more than$25,000 — on several conditions, including the resignation of its six executive board members.

Copley has been working for two months at the Billy DeFrank Lesbian and Gay Community Center in San Jose.

RUNAWAYS: Beneath the sterile surface of the suburbs exists a network of homeless teens

Janice Jenket of Union City is the mother of a runaway. She and her husband hired private investigators to find their son, whom they say is a drug user. Photo: Anda Chu
Janice Jenket of Union City is the mother of a runaway. She and her husband hired private investigators to find their son, whom they say is a drug user. Photo: Anda Chu

See the sidebar to this story.

Parents Look For Their Lost Child

Looking back, Janice Jenket says it’s difficult to pinpoint when concern for her son turned into alarm. She thinks it’s when she realized he was using heavy drugs.

It hadn’t occurred to Janice and Bruce Jenket that their son might be snorting methamphetamines – until he started talking about the worms.

“One day, his eyes were just wild,” the Union City mother recalls. “He thought worms were coming out of the piercing in his chin.”

It was soon after that 16-year-old Mark Jenket disappeared. One year later, his parents are still looking for him.

runaways---mark-jenket

Once a clean-cut Boy Scout, Mark Jenket changed during the year before he ran away, his mother says. He stopped doing well in math, pierced his ears and face six times and frequently changed the color of his hair. His habitual truancy and newly developed tendency to become easily agitated heightened her concern.

The kicker, though, was the crystal methamphetamine recipe she found in his backpack, she said.

Last spring, Mark was sent to drug rehabilitation at Kaiser Medical Center. Doctors determined he had a drug problem and sent him home. Soon after, on April 28, 2000, the James Logan High School senior told his mother he was going to stay after school to take a practice proficiency exam.

The family has not seen him since. His high school classmates have graduated. His 17th birthday has come and gone. “He hasn’t even called,” his mother says.

Like dozens of families in Fremont, Union City and Newark, the Jenkets have lost their son to the streets – and there is little they can do about it.

In California, being a runaway isn’t illegal, like it was 25 years ago. As a result, police departments can’t do much about the hundreds of runaway reports they receive annually.

Last year, most of Fremont’s 390, Union City’s 280 and Newark’s 129 runaways returned home. Some, however, band together in the area, sleeping in shacks, friends’ apartments, motels and, sometimes, on the street.

Often, runaways congregate in certain areas around town. Until recently, the place to meet was the Starbucks at the Fremont Hub. But in December 2000, Hub merchants vowed to clean house. Now, homeless teens seldom “kick it” there as they did before.

But they haven’t returned home. Instead, they’ve headed to other coffee shops, other motels, other shacks.

They party, often indulging in the street kid drug of choice – crystal meth, or crank. To get cash, they work odd jobs and “spange,” slang for soliciting “spare change.” Some say they generate as much as $150 a day.

One cash-generation endeavor they avoid, however, is ratting out a member of the “family.” It’s probably why the $5,000 reward the Jenkets were offering to anyone who could lead them to Mark spawned so few leads.

Now, the Jenkets are fighting time. When Mark turns 18 in June, he will be exempt from any mandatory rehabilitation programs. If his parents find him before his birthday, they can send him to a full session of rehabilitation from which he can’t leave until the program’s completion.

One fact keeps their hope alive: Mark supposedly is still in town, running with a network of local transients. Or so say two private investigators from New Mexico hired by Mark’s parents to find and return their son.

The Private Investigators

Private investigators Twila Stephenson (left) and Bob Christian have been searching for a Union City teenager since fall.
Private investigators Twila Stephenson (left) and Bob Christian have been searching for a Union City teenager since fall.

Investigators Bob Christian and Twila Stephenson pull their vehicle into the parking lot at Bay Billiards in Fremont, where Mark is said to have been seen. Christian shuts off the vehicle and pulls out the binoculars. The investigators can no longer go inside because management says they’ve stirred up too much trouble.

A woman walks by the car and laughs.

“Looking for your son?” she asks.

“We get that all the time,” Christian mutters, still holding the binoculars to his face.

This particular Wednesday night is like many nights for Stephenson and Christian. Tonight, they’re hitting some of the public hot spots for runaways in Fremont: Starbucks, the BART station, Motel 6, the Bay Street Coffee Company.

Some nights, they stake out houses, follow cars and slip kids money for clues. Once, a car they were following turned around and gave chase.

To an extent, these things pay off – or seem to. The investigators have found and interviewed Mark’s best friend – a fellow runaway and alleged drug dealer. They have talked to dozens of teens who say they know him or have seen him in town. But when it comes to finding Mark, the closest they have come is cornering a young man they mistook for him.

Christian and Stephenson are in the business of finding runaways and getting them treatment. Boyfriend and girlfriend, they have captured dozens of kids in the eight years they’ve been in business. Their business, Guiding Light Adolescent Services, specializes in “female transport,” according to the business card.

Females are easier to coax, subdue, handcuff and take on planes, they say. But the couple made an exception for Mark Jenket.

“I’m starting to feel like this kid’s mine,” Stephenson says from the back seat, looking through her binoculars.

The investigators – who have been in town searching for Mark since early October – get paid by the day and stay at a local motel.

Their presence unnerves local police officials.

“I have concerns about them,” says Fremont Police spokeswoman Julie Terry from the missing person’s department. “I wasn’t sure if it was OK for them to snatch him off the street, so I contacted the district attorney’s office, which discouraged them from doing so.”

Connie Van Putten, who was a Union City police captain when the investigators first took the case, puts it more strongly.

“The law doesn’t allow them to hold a kid against his will,” says Van Putten, who retired recently. “If they decide to forcibly take him somewhere, that’s a problem. Their licenses could be revoked.”

The investigators understand the complexities. Still, they plan to do what they were hired to do.

“When we see this boy, we’re going to grab him,” Stephenson says.

In New Mexico, and in other states where the investigators have worked, snatching, cuffing and transporting teens is relatively easy, they say.

But their job is much more difficult in California, a state that grants minors more personal freedom that the investigators are accustomed to.

Unlike in New Mexico, it is not illegal for a juvenile to be a runaway in California. And unlike Oregon, Utah or Washington, California harbors no lock-down rehab facilities.

As outsiders, Christian and Stephenson were unaware of California’s strict laws when the Jenkets solicited their services in September 2000.

They have since learned the rules.

To abide by them, they found a loophole: Mark’s parents contend he not only ran away but also stole parts of his father’s pistol. Jenket says she filed a complaint, which gives police reason to search for him more aggressively than most runaways.

Police concede it’s true that such a complaint allows them to intensify their efforts. Nevertheless, they still are wary.

Terry says she has warned the investigators that using handcuffs is a “no-no.”

In response, the investigators say they’ve modified their approach. Now they plan to corner – not handcuff – Mark.

“Then we’ll call the police, and wait,” Christian says.

While the notion of a “teen stake out” might be disconcerting for some, the Jenkets depend on such close attention.

In contrast, the police department offers limited help, Jenket says.

Police often give up on trying to take runaways to area shelters because nothing prevents teens from running away again, and teens know it, say officials at a county-run shelter in Castro Valley called the Malabar House.

The Police Quandary

Police take Tri-City runaways to the Malabar House. The phone number and exact location are kept confidential to provide runaways solace from their families.

The Malabar House, which offers kids food and lodging for up to 48 hours, is among the last county residential services for teen runaways in the state, says Patty Burgess, house manager for 19 years. Geared entirely for kids, the house prohibits the presence of parents.

Once, it was common for the house to accommodate 20 runaways from Fremont, Union City and Newark every month. But for the past two years, the average has dropped to 10. The numbers are less indicative of a decline in the problem, Burgess says, than they are of a legal gray area that renders parents of runaways almost helpless.

Running away is not illegal, so even when police find runaways they often run away again.

“We have kids the come 10, 15, 20 times a year,” says Aaron Yohannes, a counselor at the house.

Burgess speculates that the combination of factors – the running away is not illegal and that runaways who return home or to a place such as Malabar often just run away again – discourages police from searching for them.

For the last 25 years, no laws have prevented teens from fleeing the shelter.

The Laws

Van Putten remembers when it was illegal to be a runaway.

When she was a young Union City police officer, Van Putten said she chased runaways “through canyons and across fields.”

“Especially in the the ‘60s, when so many were running away to Haight/Ashbury to some commune,” she says. But in 1976, there was a national “personal freedom” movement that eventually affected juvenile delinquent laws in various states – including California.

Many felt that runaways shouldn’t be locked up with drug dealers, murderers and rapists, Burgess says.

“They were learning more about being a criminal in jail,” she says. “(There needed to be) a program that prevented kids from going into the juvenile system.”

Now, there are two categories of runaway juveniles: status offenders, who have simply run away, and delinquents, who have committed a crime and can therefore be incarcerated, Deputy District Attorney John Poppas says.

Parents accountable

While status offenders no longer can be locked up, parents can be held accountable for their children’s actions, Poppas says.

“If a kid commits graffiti, the parents could have to pay for the damage – even if they’re over 18,” he says.

Similarly, the parents of truant students are punished by the state, Terry says.

“The child isn’t punished, but the child could be fined, she says. “It’s ridiculous, especially when you’re talking about a 16- or 17-year-old.”

The fact that parents are responsible for the actions of their runaway kids creates a legal gray zone that leaves parents somewhat helpless, Terry says. For some parents, it actually is a relief when their runaway kids are arrested for committing a crime.

Karen, a Fremont woman who asked that her last name be withheld, has a teen-age daughter who lived on the streets for a year before returning home in January. On New Year’s Eve, Karen was on Tennyson Road in Hayward, posting fliers asking her daughter to return home, when she ran into her.

Her daughter returned home, but stole $350 and left again, Karen says. The Hayward police found and arrested her daughter in connection with the theft. They sent her to Juvenile Hall, where she was released last week.

“This is like a gift from God,” she says. “I felt for the first time finally somebody can do something about this.”

Janice Jenket empathizes. In addition to hiring investigators and pounding the pavement herself to find her son, she also wants to reach out to other parents dealing with similar situations.

“I think God chose us. Parents are ashamed. But parents need to know this can happen to anyone.”

Power of love: A Will with No Limit Finds its Reward

East Bay Press Club, Light feature, 3rd place, 2002

For love of his life, Fremont man risked everything: He met her during Vietnam War — and couldn’t let go

FREMONT — You can’t talk sense into a young man in love.

But John Kangas was more than just smitten by the woman from the Philippines he met during the Vietnam War. He was hypnotized.

So obsessed was Kangas with finding and marrying Cristita Sampaga that –after serving his time in the war — he re-enlisted. It didn’t matter that the young Marine didn’t know where she lived. And it didn’t matter that she was completely unaware of his intentions.

More than three decades later, Kangas, now 59, recalls how he hurdled obstacle after obstacle in an attempt to find, court and marry the woman who, as they celebrate Valentine’s Day today, has been his wife for 32 years. He sneaked on planes, criss-crossed the Pacific, disobeyed orders and even cheated death.

But it was worth it, he says. Today, the couple lives in a home on Mildred Drive. They have four children, two of whom still live at home, and are raising five grandchildren. This is the story of how they were married, as they remember it.

It started as an epiphany in 1963. Kangas, having returned from duty in Vietnam, was in his barracks in Jacksonville, Fla. In the middle of a bitter divorce, he had just hung up the phone after talking to his lawyer. “I knew I wanted to get married again,” he recalls. “So I thought: ‘What qualities am I looking for?'”

Lying in his bunk, Kangas waxed thoughtful and conjured an answer: Honesty. But his ideas didn’t stop there.

“Then I get this flashback,” he recalls. “I’m in the Philippines, in this restaurant. I had had a date to meet her at noon there. She didn’t show up
until one. So I asked her, ‘What happened?'”

At the time, he didn’t like her answer: She had been on a date with another man. It didn’t matter that they were only friends — her answer still grated him. Now, lying on his bunk, Kangas realized why: He loved her.

Thus began a six-month odyssey to find her.

His first move was to return to Vietnam.

The Marines thought it was odd, but Kangas went back and resumed his duty as an electrician aboard a bomber.

During his first week of “rest and relaxation,” Kangas didn’t relax. He went back to the Philippines.

He booked a hotel in Sampaga’s hometown of Olongapo and called a taxi. When the driver inquired about Kangas’ destination, the young man uttered a name, not a place, and offered the driver a 20-peso bill — worth well more than the price of a typical cab drive.

“It’s yours if you find her,” Kangas said.

The driver nodded and drove slowly through the streets with his window down, talking to passers-by and shop owners, gathering clues.

Within 30 minutes, the driver found her home, a dwelling with no electricity or running water.

“There wasn’t even a door,” Kangas recalls.

The driver left Kangas in the taxi and approached the home. Sampaga appeared in the doorway. They spoke for a few minutes, then the driver returned to the taxi and brought Kangas to the doorway.

Kangas looked at her, and slipped the driver the money.

She looked at him, and invited him in.

“I had both an engagement ring and wedding ring in my pocket,” recalls Kangas, who didn’t waste much time. After engaging in small talk for a while, he proposed.

“He told me: ‘I want to get married again,'” she remembers. “I say: ‘Who’s the lucky girl?’

“He say: ‘You!'”

She said yes, but recalls that she never really expected the wedding to happen.

“I was already engaged with an American, but he never came back,” she says. “I don’t trust Americans. When I got (Kangas’) ring, I took it to the pawn shop.”

Still, they spent what both remember as a wonderful week together. When it ended, Kangas returned to the war and Sampaga thought him gone forever.

Little did she know.

Kangas’ second Vietnam tour ended in 1966. Still desperate to marry the skeptical Sampaga, he requested an extension. This time, however, he was turned down. He later learned he likely would have died with his crew had the extension been granted.

Still determined to see Sampaga, to convince her to marry him, Kangas sought a passport and visa so he could visit her in the Philippines. But more problems arose. To get the passport, he needed to travel to Hawaii. To get the visa, he needed to travel to Japan.

His only chance was during a month-long furlough before he returned to the States. He used 18 days of it running errands on the Pacific Ocean — retrieving his passport and visa — and spent the remaining 12 days with Sampaga.

This time, they made plans to be married — as soon as he could finalize his divorce.

When he left, she again assumed he would not return.

Kangas, however, was determined. By 1967, the divorce was final. Now, he needed to get to the Philippines, so they could get married. But there were no flights to the Philippines. The closest Kangas could get was Hawaii.

Once there, he met some members of a Philippine navy crew on their way to Guam. They learned of his plight and offered him a seat aboard their plane. In Guam, he got word of a plane that was leaving the next day for the Philippines, where he wasn’t allowed.

“The pilot had flown it there to wash it,” he says. “It was a VIP plane.”

In the Philippines, Kangas talked his way past an officer who tried to stop him but missed a ride he had lined up to take him to Sampaga’s home. Finally, after hopping into the side car of a motorcycle taxi, Kangas reached his destination, exhausted.

But Sampaga was not there. She had moved to a nearby city to work, her father told Kangas.

“She didn’t believe you were coming,” her father said.

Kangas gave her father a $20 bill, this time in American money, to find her.

“He left that night, about midnight. At about eight the next morning, he was back with her,” Kangas remembers.

Soon after, they were married in an open field by the town’s mayor.

“We fed 2,000 people,” Kangas says. “We danced all night.”

Once again, though, Kangas returned home alone.

In 1968, the couple had been married almost a year when the red tape was finally cut. But a big problem remained: getting word to her and getting her here. Her family had no phone, so Kangas could communicate with his wife only through letters.

Once in awhile, she would go into town to call Kangas, who was living in Southern California, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. But just before she flew to Los Angeles, Kangas moved from the barracks into an apartment, and was unable to tell her his new phone number. In the end, Kangas drove to LAX. “I couldn’t find her,” he recalled.

So he called the barracks. “Did she call?” he asked the officer. “You could say that,” the officer answered. “She’s at the main gate.”

“Somehow,” Kangas recalls, “she figured out how to catch a bus to the barracks. She made it to the main gate of the base. Meanwhile, I’m in L.A. International.”

He drove the 30 miles to the gate, where she stood waiting. After a five-year struggle, they were together at last. Eventually, they settled in Fremont, where Kangas landed a job as an engineer and they started a family.

“I promised the mayor (who married them) we would have 12 kids,” Kangas says over the voices of two of his grandchildren. “We got almost halfway there.”

On April 2, they will celebrate their 33rd anniversary.