by Bill Monson

As I was saying when illness interrupted.... Two of the Top Ten Stories in our area of the Central California Coast concerned animals--but not in any cute or cuddly way. The first story concerns a family of three--father, mother, son--driving their car up highway 101 over Cuesta Grade. The Grade is a winding two-lane highway which roughly follows the old stagecoach road through the Santa Lucia Range which hems in San Luis Obisbo and the Five Cities where I live.

The highway is steep and the pass is about 1,500 feet high; but thousands of vehicles use it every day--from motorcycles to 18-wheelers. On this particular night, the family's car was in the right hand lane following a pickup which was towing a horse trailer. To their horror, the door on the trailer swung open and horse slid backwards, hooves striking sparks on the asphalt as it tried to stay inside. The family could not get out of the lane because faster traffic was passing on the left. All they could do was watch terrified as the horse finally fell out and then somersaulted into their windshield. Family and horse died instantly; the car ran off the road and into a gully. And now, the real horror begins. Sensing the weight loss, the driver of the pick-up truck pulled over, got out and went to the rear of his trailer.

Witnesses say he viewed the wreck, closed the open trailer door, then returned to his truck and sped away. Other drivers tried to follow him, but he reached the first off-ramp and headed off into the darkness behind the range. The CHP was provided with a good description and eventually found the trailer. But the owner denied it was in use that night. There was no evidence to connect him to the crime; and the case remains open. The family and the horse have been buried, but it will be a long time before this tale is forgotten. The other story involves a well-known local sports fisherman. One twilight late last year, he took three of his friends aboard his boat for an evening of camaraderie and fishing. They were a few miles west of port with the sportsman steering in the cabin and his three friends breaking out their gear in the back of the boat. Suddenly, a young whale broached alongside the boat and came crashing down on the cabin. It collapsed, crushing the sportsman inside. The three friends clung to whatever they could in the back as the whale's weight and struggles to escape threatened to capsize the boat. Finally, the whale slid into the sea and disappeared,

leaving the three friends on the back of the boat--unable to reach and use the radio. Happily for them, they were spotted within an hour; and the Coast Guard rescued them. The boat was almost totally wrecked, the sportsman dead, two of his friends injured. Authorities were stunned. They'd never heard of such an incident before. They cited the apparent youth of the whale, the twilight hour, incredibly bad luck. But they also hoped it was not the beginning of a trend. Whale- watching from boats is a profitable business for the Central California Coast--and if the whales should start attacking boats--! That's it. Two stories. Draw your own moral. Nature is cruel, fate is capricious, humans are the meanest animals, whatever. Something to muse on in the dark, dank nights of February.