The possibility that Tibor Karsai — a sexually violent predator — soon might be released in Santa Barbara County has reopened old wounds, and raised new fears, for a Goleta woman whose daughter was the rapist’s first known victim.
Karsai’s brutal attack on her vibrant 19-year-old daughter in 1974 led to a mental breakdown and a destructive spiral that culminated in the young woman’s suicide more than a decade later, according to her mother, “Linda,” who asked that she be identified by a pseudonym to protect her family’s privacy.
It’s in that context that Linda is viewing the possible release of Karsai, who served three years in prison for her daughter’s attack, then went on to rape again — viciously assaulting a 16-year-old Placer County girl in 1982.
Linda, who’s retired after spending 30 years working as a mental-health professional, sees a huge gap between what the law requires and the ability of psychiatric professionals to treat violent sexual predators such as Karsai.
During an interview with Noozhawk on Sunday, she expressed hope that her speaking out may help lead to changes in the law.
“I’d like to see that other people’s children not have this happen to them,” Linda said.
Karsai was sentenced to 26 years in state prison for the Placer County rape, then was committed to a state mental hospital in Placerville in 1998 as a sexually violent predator.
After being turned down for release several times, Karsai was granted conditional release by a Placer County judge in September 2010, after a jury there deadlocked on whether he should remain in custody.
Since then, a legal battle has been waged among his lawyers, prosecutors in Placer County, and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office over if, when and where he would be freed.
The latest plan, which District Attorney Joyce Dudley opposes and has asked the state Supreme Court to halt, would have Karsai released in Santa Barbara County as a transient, supervised by a private company called Liberty Healthcare Group. Karsai has family in Santa Maria.
Details of the 59-year-old Karsai’s release program have not been made public, but there are reports he would be placed in an RV or mobile home and moved around the county, supervised by Liberty Healthcare personnel.
That possible outcome was a shock for Linda, who isn’t just opposed to Karsai being released locally.
“It’s being released on this Earth,” she said, expressing her strong belief that violent sex offenders such as Karsai cannot be rehabilitated and inevitably will attack again. “The only treatment is when they pass away.”
Linda views the entire situation through the eyes of a mother who believes she lost her precious daughter — “Danielle,” also a pseudonym — because of what Karsai did to her.
She recounted how Danielle, a Dos Pueblos High School graduate, had been a lively young woman with long, light-blond hair and pretty brown eyes. She painted, wrote songs and loved animals. A carefree person, she had lots of friends and loved life.
“She was just the light of our family,” Linda recalled.
But the attack transformed her into a tormented woman whose path eventually led her to drown herself at a local beach.
Danielle’s fateful encounter with Karsai took place in 1974 at a small mobile-home park near State Street and Highway 154, where she was living in a tiny trailer, Linda said. One of her brothers lived in a trailer nearby, “and she felt safe there,” she said.
While doing her laundry one day, Danielle was approached by Karsai, who engaged her in conversation and later followed her back to her trailer.
It was there she was savagely raped by Karsai.
“She survived by not fighting it,” Linda said, and putting her faith in God.
It wasn’t long after being sexually assaulted that Danielle began to fall apart mentally, said Linda, whose first husband — Danielle’s father — suffered from severe mental illness and ultimately killed himself.
Danielle traveled aimlessly, went through a series of relationships, and eventually took up with a cult — the “Bedsheet People” — that was active in Santa Barbara at the time. She gave away her car and many of her possessions, and drifted around the country and into Mexico, Linda said.
Linda committed her daughter for psychiatric treatment at least twice, but was prevented from doing so once she turned 21.
Over the years, she said, Danielle had three children — two the result of subsequent rapes. Linda said all of the children eventually were taken away by child-welfare officials because Danielle was unable to properly care for them. They ultimately were adopted by Linda and her second husband, who between them had eight children — most, like Danielle, from the previous marriages.
The end for Danielle came in September 1985, shortly before her 30th birthday. She was camping at Haskell’s Beach, what was then a remote and undeveloped area near where Bacara Resort & Spa now stands in western Goleta.
“She went out into the water in just her underwear at night, and just let herself drown,” Linda said.
It was an outcome her mother had long feared.
“Not only did I see it coming, but I couldn’t do anything about it,” she said.
Linda didn’t learn of Karsai’s Placer County crimes until fairly recently, when his release from custody became a possibility.
“It was like being shot in the heart,” she said. “I’m not a hating person, and I’m not easily upset, but this ...”
The Placer County attack, which took place in a bowling alley men’s restroom, was particularly brutal, according to the “ugly facts” of the case outlined in an opinion handed down by the state Third District Court of Appeal, which denied motions by Karsai to reduce his sentence.
According to the opinion, Karsai exposed himself to the girl, then grabbed her from behind and dragged her into a restroom stall. There, she was sexually violated by Karsai in several ways before he forced her to perform oral sex on him and then raped her.
All of this was done under threat of death.
During Sunday’s interview, Linda showed remarkable poise in discussing her daughter and her family’s ordeal.
“We’ve been through a lot as a family,” she said.
Linda said she doesn’t see much chance of affecting Karsai’s case, but hopes her voice will help prevent future tragedies.
“I wish to speak about my daughter as she is not alive to speak for herself,” Linda wrote in a poignant letter she sent last week to Dudley. “She received a death sentence as a result of (Karsai’s) behavior.”
Last Friday, Dudley and Deputy District Attorney Michael Carrozzo filed a petition with the state Supreme Court seeking to overturn the appellate court’s decision allowing Karsai to be released as a transient.
Dudley has said she is not optimistic, but remains hopeful the high court will keep Karsai away from Santa Barbara County. A decision is expected within 30 days.
Meanwhile, Linda, who is in her 70s, carries on with her life, tending to her husband, children and grandchildren, and hoping Karsai is never able to victimize anyone else.
“No one should have to go through what our family has endured,” she wrote to Dudley. “My heart will break again when I hear of his next victim.”