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Hero Found Dead Beside Mountain Trail

January 24, 1991

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A man who pulled a boy from a burning car but was haunted by the memory of three people he couldn’t save was found dead beside a mountain trail where he had gone for a hike.

Friends of Richard L. Olsen wonder if he committed suicide.

The 33-year-old handyman had been depressed since the accident 17 months ago, friends said. He was hospitalized last fall after trying to take his own life with a drug overdose.

Olsen set off for a hike in the San Gabriel Mountains on Jan. 17. His body was found beside a trail Sunday in Angeles National Forest. Friends said he was an experienced outdoorsman and familiar with the area northeast of Los Angeles.

The coroner’s office said the results of tests showing how Olsen died will be available within the next two weeks.

Olsen was proclaimed a hero by District Attorney Ira Reiner during a ceremony Sept. 24, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he somehow failed those who died in the burning car.

″When I saw the flames on that car, the only thing on my mind was ’Get them out,‴ Olsen said at the ceremony. He and 12 others were honored for bravery.

Olsen managed to rescue then 12-year-old Danny Garavito. Three of the boy’s relatives burned to death in the Aug. 12, 1989, accident.

Olsen, nicknamed Ivan, was waiting at a South Los Angeles intersection when a driver sideswiped him and rammed into the back of a Toyota carrying Danny and five members of his family. The Toyota flew into the air and caught fire.

Olsen pulled the boy out of a window. As he tried to rescue three others, the car was swallowed up by flames. Danny’s mother, Rosalina, managed to free herself. His sister was thrown through the windshield and killed.

The three who perished were Rosalina Garavito’s husband, sister and brother-in-law.

″Imagine having to stand there watching the car go up in flames, hearing the people screaming and then seeing them die; it was like a combat zone for someone who had never been trained,″ said Deputy District Attorney Beth Van Arnam, who helped prosecute the driver.

Phillip Carlos Jarmon, 28, who caused the accident, was high on the hallucinogen PCP at the time. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 69 years to life in prison, Ms. Van Arnam said.

Olsen was known as a mechanical whiz by many dog kennel owners who employed him.

″After I got to know him I realized he was some kind of genius so I gave him all kinds of referrals to other kennel owners,″ said Betsy Jones- Moreland, an actress and dog kennel owner from El Monte.

″Most of the kennels are run by women so he would keep our cars running and our swamp coolers running and was real good with animals,″ she said.

Olsen also was a proficient bluegrass violin player.

After the accident, Olsen worked less and less, apparently unable to concentrate, friends said.

″He’d turn up at my door at night and say, ’I just can’t stop thinking about it,‴ said friend Charline Averill.

Olsen’s body was found face up by a passing hiker, said U.S. Forest Service Ranger Will Shaw.

At Olsen’s campsite, ″We found numerous narcotic prescription-type bottles and containers for either ether or alcohol,″ Shaw said. ″I’ve kept it as a possible suicide but it could also be an accidental overdose.″

Some of Olsen’s friends believe he died accidentally, despite his previous suicide attempts.

″He had been very up lately,″ said Jones-Moreland. ″He had written his fiance five lovely letters about how much he loved her and all these ideas about their future.″

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