Sheriff’s juvenile team to investigate street surfing case

Findings will be submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for a decision on charges. In the meantime, the Malibu teen photographed street surfing the highway is excoriated in the national media.

By Jonathan Friedman / Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu teenage mountain climber and general daredevil Johnny Strange made national headlines last year for being the youngest non-Nepalese person to climb to the top of Mount Everest. He is back in the national news, but this time for something far less glamorous. A passenger on a MTA bus last week took a photo of him doing so-called “street surfing,” in which he kneeled on top of a car as it travelled down Pacific Coast Highway. Strange, who is 18, could receive an infraction for the incident, but the unidentified 17-year-old girl driving the car, who only had a learner’s permit, could be in even more trouble and face a misdemeanor reckless driving charge.

Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Sgt. Phil Brooks said this week that the case has been turned over to the Sheriff’s Department’s juvenile investigation team. The investigators will later make a recommendation to the District Attorney’s Office, which will make a decision on what charges, if any, will be filed against the teens.

“This highly dangerous and illegal activity comes in the wake of three recent fatalities on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, one which involved a 13-year-old Malibu student,” Brooks wrote in a press release issued last week.

Brooks’ press release contained the photo showing Strange’s street surfing. It was soon circulated throughout the nation’s media and blogs. A headline for a blog on the Kansas City Star’s Web site stated “Street Surfing, a Hobby for Morons.” Some of the people posting messages on various online news articles and blogs supported Strange with comments either endorsing his behavior or writing that it was not something worth the Sheriff’s Department’s time. But most people were in line with the Star’s headline or had opinions that were even stronger.

“Cases like this bring out my libertarian streak,” a person wrote on the Huffington Post. “Why should it be illegal to do this? Seems to be in humanity’s best interest to encourage it —the gene pool will be rapidly improved.”

Sheriff’s deputies confronted Strange and the 17-year-old girl at Malibu High School, where they are both students, shortly after the release of the photo. Strange reportedly said to them, “I guess I was being stupid.” Strange later posted an apology on YouTube.

When contacted by The Malibu Times, Strange said, “I don’t want kids trying this and I don’t want other people doing it. I don’t want anybody getting hurt because of what they saw.” He said The Times would have to contact his manager, Matt Myerson, to “set something up” to do an interview.

Myerson said, “We are not making any comments now.”

Strange was profiled last year in a Malibu Times Magazine story on extreme athletes. During the interview, he mentioned street surfing as one of the many high-adrenaline activities he enjoys doing. On his Facebook page, he wrote below a link to his YouTube apology that he was concerned he could be in trouble because investigators had found out he had done this before.

“The more people you can get to repost it [the apology] the less trouble I’m going to get in by the cops because they are afraid of other people trying it, and they found out I did it once going 90 mph (it was a stupid record),” he wrote. “It’s dumb, don’t do it and please repost that vid [sic] if you have any time.”

Brooks said he did not know anything about this supposed new knowledge by investigators. However, if it were true, he said it would have no bearing on the potential punishment for Strange.

Malibu Mayor Jefferson Wagner, who gives classes to fire personnel who work on movie sets during extreme stunts and special effects events, said he has seen street surfing done for films. But in those situations the highway is closed to the public and the speed of the vehicle is not actually as fast as it appears on the film. A number of precautions are taken to make the situation as safe as possible, Wagner said.

“I think it’s sad that he involved the general public in his stunt,” Wagner said. “I understand he needs the thrill. And I understand adrenaline, having done extreme surfing and stunts. But it’s always done by professionals that do it every day under controlled circumstances with an ambulance standing by.”

Wagner said he was on the set when a stunt man died, and that was with the highest amount of precaution taken. He said this shows the extreme danger of doing something high-risk like street surfing without taking any precaution.

City Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich said this incident should serve as a learning experience. She said parents should talk about it with their children. “Thank god Johnny was not killed,” she said. “He could have easily been killed. He would have been thrown off and hit by the driver in that car. PCH is not a place for playing stunts. If you need attention, there are other ways to get it.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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