Neighbor says teacher rode tandem bike with young girl
An elementary school teacher accused of gagging and blindfolding students in his class was described as a loner who took camping trips by himself and seemed perpetually nervous and skittish, a neighbor recalled Tuesday.
John McManus, who said he has known Mark Berndt for 20 years, said he saw the fired grade school teacher a month ago riding a tandem bicycle along the waterfront in Hermosa Beach with a young girl who appeared to be in her early teens.
Berndt seemed unnerved when McManus spotted him, the neighbor said, and later told him: “Don’t tell my sister I was with this young girl."
The neighbor said Berndt told him the girl was one of his students and that they had ridden the bicycle nearly as far as Marina del Rey and back.
He said he frequently saw Berndt hanging out around the Redondo Beach pier, drinking beer and gawking at girls.
McManus, a 63-year-old retired chemical worker, described his longtime neighbor as skittish and nervous, a guy who generally kept to himself.
Berndt and his sister are owners of the small Torrance apartment complex on Reynolds Drive, property records show, where they and McManus live.
John Haws, a 21-year-old who lives in a neighboring building, said his only recollection of Berndt's apartment is hearing classical music blaring from it.
He said he had never seen Berndt before Monday, when he saw sheriff's deputies at his door around noon. Haws said he heard them knocking and telling Berndt to put on a shirt. The deputies went inside for moment, then left with Berndt, he said.
Berndt, who was fired as a teacher in March, was being held Tuesday on $2.3-million bail following his arrest.
Heajeoung Han, 52, who lives across the street, recalled seeing as many as 10 investigators riffling through the apartment and leaving with boxes.
Other neighbors of the former teacher said they saw Berndt being taken away Tuesday from his Torrance apartment by deputies wearing street clothes and bulletproof vests.
-- Jeff Gottleib in Torrance
Photo: John McManus, a resident at Mark Berndt's apartment complex, speaks to reporters on Tuesday afternoon. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times