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Probe: June 7, 2001

June 07, 2001

QUESTION: As long as I can remember I have been going to the American Legion barbecue at the legion's HiPass camp for disadvantaged children. It was a fund raiser to keep the camp open.

This year there was no barbecue. I heard the legion is going to close the camp because a camp counselor (allegedly) molested a child and the parents are suing the veterans.

What's the story here? — HiPass Supporter, El Centro

You have the basics, but whatever the story, it's a crying shame a facility like HiPass, which opened in 1938, could be closed as a result. The American Legion bought the mountain camp in 1935 from the Young Women's Christian Association for $1.

The HiPass experience is part of the childhood memories of thousands of Valleyites who spent a week or two escaping the summer heat (before air conditioning).

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It was more than an American Legion project. The whole Valley supported efforts to keep the camp afloat.

It was used by other organizations, such as the Boy Scouts. During the 1970s the Economic Opportunity Commission sent groups of "at-risk" youth to the camp for a change of scene.

As you might expect, the American Legion doesn't want to talk about the case. Nevertheless, we confirmed bits of the story.

There was an incident and a camp counselor was arrested for allegedly molesting a young boy.

The counselor was released on his own recognizance the following day, according to a Legionnaire.

The Legionnaire said bitterly, "You know if they had had any evidence, they would have thrown him under the jail and tossed the key away."

George Speer, former American Legion district commander, declined to comment on the case, pointing out there is "litigation" involved.

Speer is the brother of the late J. Leonard Speer, former county sheriff and Calipatria police chief who was killed three years ago when he answered a family dispute call.

George Speer promised to comment further after June 15. It's possible, he said, the camp could be opened for a couple weeks this summer.

QUESTION: It's getting hot and it's the start of the dying season in the desert. More and more undocumented workers will be heat victims. Why can't we do more than stash water out there to save lives? — Concerned, Seeley

Art Willis, a member of the Civil Air Patrol and a former Navy pilot, suggested local pilots could make regular patrols to find immigrants in trouble.

The patrols should be divorced from Border Patrol efforts to track down crossers and deport them to Mexico, he said.

When the planes fly over, the crossers could ignore them or wave a flag or a piece of clothing as an SOS signal.

It's a good idea. Unfortunately, Willis will be out of town until June 19 and financial support would be needed. It is expensive to fly airplanes.

QUESTION: We have been sorting through my children's toys. They would like to donate the toys to children who do not have nice toys. Where can I donate the toys so they don't end up in a thrift store? — Making Room, Imperial County

We've had your letter for a couple months so we don't know if you still have the toys. If you don't, we know there are other families who have too many toys and families who have none at all.

You didn't put a phone number on your e-mail — and not everybody has access to a computer.

In the meantime, we hope agencies working with women and children who would like to have the toys will call us at 337-3448. Leave a message on our voice mail and we'll get back to you.

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