Wednesday, August 3, 2011

#RebeccaZahau : Questions remain after deaths at Coronado mansion..

CORONADO, Calif. (AP) — The wealthy San Diego suburb of Coronado is known for its safe streets, world-class beaches and small-town feel. The most common crimes are small-time theft.

These days, it's known for two deaths at an historic mansion on the Pacific Ocean.

The first came last week, when Rebecca Zahau, the 32-year-old girlfriend of 54-year-old Arizona pharmaceuticals tycoon Jonah Shacknai was found dead, her nude body hanging from a balcony of his historic mansion, her wrists and ankles bound.

Days earlier, Shacknai's son, Max, 6, who was being cared for by Zahau, fell down the stairs and was hospitalized. His parents said late Sunday that he died from his injuries.

Investigators say the son's death was an accident. They say Zahau's death is suspicious, but haven't ruled out suicide. Authorities repeated Monday they haven't established any link between the boy's fall and the woman's death.
They declined to further discuss evidence in the case.

"Suicides can appear odd," San Diego County Sgt. Roy Frank said. "It's not unusual to have a suicide that appears to be something else."

The deaths have shocked many residents in this suburb of about 26,000 people. But as shocking as the discovery of Nalepa's body was, Marilynne Hartstein, a summertime resident from Scottsdale, Ariz., said it appeared to be a family matter.

"People aren't afraid for themselves," Hartstein said on a morning walk.
Coronado draws many part-time residents from Arizona. They are known as "Zonies" — people who escape the Grand Canyon State's oppressive heat for California's ocean breezes.

Shacknai's 27-room home, known as the Spreckels mansion, is one of the more storied properties in a city of multimillion-dollar homes. It has unobstructed beach views and sits near Coronado's main street, which is lined with palm trees and upscale boutiques.

San Diego's gleaming skyline is across the San Diego Bay.

Zahau was at home with another woman, whom authorities won't identify, when Max fell down the stairs last Monday, Coronado Police Chief Louis Scanlon said. Paramedics found he wasn't breathing and did not have a pulse. He was treated at Rady Children's Hospital San Diego.

Scanlon called the boy's fall a "tragic accident."

Ted Greenberg, owner of Camp Diggity Dog, said Nalepa called the Coronado kennel last Monday, shortly after the boy's fall, to ask that someone pick up her 14-month-old Weimaraner, Ocean. She said her child was hospitalized after an injury.

"She described it as her child," he said.

Greenberg went to the home Tuesday.

"She was crying on the phone on Monday and Tuesday she was quiet," he said.
Shacknai's brother, Adam, called 911 Wednesday to report the 32-year-old woman appeared to be dead, investigators said. The brother was staying in a mansion guesthouse. Jonah Shacknai was not at home.

On Sunday, Jonah Shacknai and his ex-wife announced that their son had died from his injuries.

"With great sadness, (we) convey the tragic passing of our beloved son, Max (affectionately known as Maxie)," they said in a prepared statement. They added, "His loving, kind and vibrant spirit will be forever in our hearts and those whom he touched every day."

Jonah Shacknai founded Medicis Pharmaceuticals Corp. and has been chairman and chief executive of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company since 1988. In his divorce filing with Kimberly Shacknai, he filed a tax return that showed his income in 1998 at $16,991,304.

Medicis makes acne treatments Solodyn and Ziana and facial wrinkle treatment Restylane and Dysport, a competitor of Botox. Last year, the company earned $123 million on $700 million in revenue.

Shacknai clashed with historic preservationists after promising not to make major changes to the home.

The city granted Shacknai some exceptions — once to replace windows and another time to install French doors near the front entrance, said Mayor Casey Tanaka. The city rejected Shacknai's appeals to punch a window through the roof and attach a master bedroom.

"He was here enough where he felt like he was a fairly full-time resident," said Tanaka, 35, who serves part-time as mayor while teaching history at Coronado High School.

Zahau was an ophthalmic technician at Horizon Eye Specialists & Lasik Center in the Phoenix area from April 2008 to December 2010, said chief executive Michael Trier.

"Rebecca was a very experienced and skilled technician, who was well respected by her doctors, her co-workers and our patients," Trier said Monday. "We are saddened and troubled by the circumstances of her death.

A pot of flowers stood outside the Coronado mansion Monday with cards in Nalepa's memory.

"It is the way you listened, the way you comforted, the way you related to my every heartache, my every victory, even my losses," read one note. "You were a true friend."
Associated Press writers Robert Jablon in Los Angeles and Amanda Lee Myers in Phoenix contributed to this report.