The camping trip from hell

Local teens say they were terrorized; cops say naive kids ran afoul of ‘Oroville guys’

THE NOT-SO-GREAT OUTDOORS Ahda Cochrane, 14, and Lance Cochrane, 17, shown here in silhouette, say they were terrorized by a group of people who were making racist jokes and drinking heavily before they beat Lance up. The teens and their parents originally consented to being photographed for this story, but Lance later changed his mind, fearing reprisals from the group.

THE NOT-SO-GREAT OUTDOORS Ahda Cochrane, 14, and Lance Cochrane, 17, shown here in silhouette, say they were terrorized by a group of people who were making racist jokes and drinking heavily before they beat Lance up. The teens and their parents originally consented to being photographed for this story, but Lance later changed his mind, fearing reprisals from the group.

Photo By Tom Angel

For most people, a bad camping trip is one on which the Oreos go stale or an air mattress deflates. For teenage siblings Lance and Ahda Cochrane, a bad camping trip means being beaten and terrorized by a gang of self-proclaimed white supremacists, being held captive in a collapsed tent while grown men use it as a restroom and then being told by police that they, not their tormentors, might be arrested.

Lance, 17, and his sister Ahda, 14, say that’s what happened to them and two young friends when they went camping June 18 at White Sands Beach on the Feather River. It started out as a fun trip, they say, until a group of racist thugs came along and brought violence and drama with them.

Investigators from the Butte County Sheriffs Office say they know something happened to the Cochranes, but until an investigation is completed, they can’t verify the teens’ story. One investigator chalked the incident up to a culture clash between the “sheltered” Cochranes and some rough-and-tumble Oroville natives.

White Sands Beach is a narrow strip of sand along the North Fork, flanked by a cliff that provides the only access in or out of the site. After climbing down the steep trail in the morning and setting up camp, the Cochranes and their two friends, ages 14 and 12, had the spot to themselves until around 5 p.m., when a second, older group of people arrived. For most of the afternoon, the teens and the other group were able to share the small beach without much friction. Lance said they hardly spoke to the other group until one of the men asked him for some chocolate for s’mores, which Lance gave him.

A little bit later, Lance let his generosity get the best of him when he offered to take two of the men and one of the women into town on a beer run. On the way, Lance said the woman decided that he had disrespected her and demanded an apology. Though he said he apologized, the situation continued to deteriorate.

Back at the beach a few hours later, Lance and Ahda say, the woman’s drunken accusations prompted some of the men to become violent. It had become dark by then, and according to the teens, the men had been drinking all day.

“At this point there was nothing I could do—it was like nine against one.” Lance said. “These guys, like, they’re not small people. They’re big—you know, like, beer-drinking, beef-eater jowls—like your typical white supremacist.”

Lance is sketchy on the details after the fists began to fly.

“Anything I remember from the actual fight is like little flashes and images. I remember being hit in the head with something, I remember dodging punches and I remember lying down in the water. Then I remember someone dragging me back to my tent.”

Ahda said the men punched and kicked her brother to the ground several times, at one point smashing him in the head with a piece of firewood, a blow that caused him to fall partially unconscious into the river. He apparently was dragged out of the water only to be beaten again. At one point he crawled under the tent in a stupor, and again was dragged out and beaten. The whole time, Ahda said, the men were calling Lance a “faggot,” threatening to kill him and berating him for not fighting back.

After scuffling with the men for around a half an hour, the teens say, Lance managed to sneak off into the nearby brush, leaving Ahda, her best friend and her friend’s younger brother in the tent. While Lance struggled to make his own trail up the steep embankment by crawling through some thorn bushes, the other group began systematically burning all of the teens’ possessions, Ahda said.

“They had a huge thing of gasoline because they had a little hibachi,” Ahda said. “They burned all the clothes we had set out to dry. Then they’d come and urinate on the tent. They declared it the new bathroom.”

Lance said he was finally able to get up the hill to his car amid shouts of “let’s get our knives and kill that fucker” from the men, and found the front driver’s side tire had been slashed. Regardless, he started up the car and raced off to get help, which prompted a short car chase from someone in the other party. When he got back to a populated area, he began knocking on doors until he found someone who would let him use the phone. Bleeding from one ear and possibly in shock, Lance said he told the 911 dispatcher he was afraid his sister and her friend would be raped if help didn’t arrive soon.

Back at the beach, Ahda said she and her friends cowered in the tent while the men burned their things, made lewd comments and began using their now-collapsed tent as a restroom. When Ahda’s father picked the kids up the next day, he said, the girls’ hair and clothes were soaked with urine.

“The last 20 minutes before the sheriffs got there they broke [the tent] down and smashed the poles,” Ahda said. “I was holding it up.”

Just before a group of six sheriff’s deputies arrived, Ahda said, the men had begun to pour gasoline around the tent and were threatening to burn it unless they came out. When the deputies arrived, the teens say, they thought the men would be arrested. Instead, Lance said, Deputy Jason Wines threatened to lock him up for falsely reporting an emergency. Deputy Wines confirmed that he considered citing Lance, and he also cautioned that, although Lance now says he was sober when he was attacked, he told Wines he had been drinking that night.

“I didn’t like the whole situation,” Wines said. “We were basically in a panic trying to get up there. [When deputies arrived] we found a bunch of school kids sitting around a campfire.”

Wines said he interviewed everyone in the group and, far from being a riotous gang of racist skinheads as the Cochrane teens claim, they were “a bunch of Oroville guys,” with ages ranging from 18-22. They had been drinking but for the most part weren’t drunk and told Wines Lance had been “mouthing off” so one of them punched him. The group denied urinating and defecating on the tent.

The deputies helped Ahda and her friends up the trail. They arrested no one. Incredibly, Ahda said, a deputy asked the girls if they wanted to stay on the beach that night. The girls declined.

After bringing the kids back to sheriff’s headquarters in Oroville, deputies left them in the parking lot until a deputy let them into the locked lobby area. No medical aid was summoned. The mother of the two other kids, whose names are being withheld, picked the group up at about 5 a.m.

The story doesn’t end there, however. Upon returning early from a business trip to deal with the incident, Lance’s father, Steve Cochrane, noticed something “not right” about his son. “He couldn’t remember what year it was,” he said. “Normally he’s very quick.”

After returning to the beach to pick up the kids’ remaining possessions, he took Lance to Enloe’s prompt care facility in Chico. There, it was discovered that Lance had suffered a concussion and fractured skull. Doctors transferred him to the main Enloe facility for a CAT scan and other tests and insisted he stay the night under a coma watch. Medical records confirm Lance had a “depressed skull fracture and contusions.”

The Cochranes now say they don’t know how to proceed, but they want the perpetrators caught and brought to justice. They believe their kids’ story and say they don’t understand why no one was arrested at the scene. Nevertheless, they said, they are committed to working with Butte County law enforcement to make sure nobody else’s kids have to go through what theirs did.

“We want justice," said Lance and Ahda’s mother Mariah. "There is something not right about all of this."