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Man who drove off cliff wrote farewell note to family: 'Love Dad'

September 30, 2011 |  6:33 pm


After spending six nights at the bottom of a cliff in the Angeles National Forest after crashing his car, David La Vau was convinced he was going to die.

So he wrote what he thought would be his farewell message to his family on the car's dusty trunk: "I love my kids. Dead man was not my fault. Love, Dad."

A day later, his children were roaming the canyon road in a desperate search for their missing dad. They heard a weak cry from below the steep cliff. It was their father. And he was alive.

"He cried and we cried when we saw him," said his son, Sean. "We couldn't believe it."

On Friday, as La Vau recovered at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital from a dislocated shoulder and a few broken bones, his family gathered in a private waiting room near the intensive care unit and recounted what happened.

La Vau disappeared last Friday night. The retired cable company worker was known for taking weekend trips on his own — to the beach, wine country, shopping — so the family didn't worry.

But when Wednesday came and no one had heard from him, they filed a missing person report with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Officials told the family it would take several days to process the report, Sean said.

"We didn't have time to wait," he said. So with his sisters, girlfriend and other relatives, Sean turned the kitchen of his Lancaster home into a search-and-rescue headquarters.

They called La Vau's bank to find a credit card trail, his cellphone company to check his last calls, his doctor to see if he had checked in and his gym, where he swam religiously and walked on the treadmill.

With help from police, the family on Thursday pinpointed the area near the mountains where his cellphone had last been used.

In two cars, Sean and half a dozen other relatives set off to search with a backpack full of water, bandages and a hammer. Only two roads led to La Vau's home in Lake Hughes: San Francisquito Canyon and Lakes Hughes.

They headed toward Lake Hughes. Driving slowly along the mountain, they stopped at every turn to peak over the cliff.

By sundown, as daylight was disappearing, they came to a place where the two-lane road twisted sharply, with little warning.

Sean got out of the car and stood in front of the mountain — hoping.

He heard a sound. “It was a little moan,” he said.

When he yelled out “Hello!” someone responded down below. “Help.”


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-- Esmeralda Bermudez in Valencia

Photo: Family and friends celebrate with David La Vau at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia.