The Colgate Scene
July 2007

People on the go
16a
Benny Osorio '88 [Photo by Rick Loomis]

Gangs and guns. Murder. Trials and defendants. The life of Benny Osorio '88 might sound like it's right out of one of today's TV crime dramas, but it's much different.

It's real.

Osorio is a criminal prosecutor in the Hardcore Gang Division of Los Angeles County, Calif. If a gang member kills someone, usually by firearm, and some sort of gang intent is involved, Osorio is the one who will work to put the gangster behind bars.

"What people see on TV is not what happens in real life," Osorio said. "Jurors expect [what they see on] CSI. The majority of cases are not that. I rarely get a fingerprint. I did have one case where I had a fingerprint and a gun, and I told the jury, `See that picture right there? For a criminalist, that's a centerfold.'"

Last year, Osorio was named Deputy District Attorney of the Year in Los Angeles County, an award that recognizes outstanding trial performance and, in Osorio's case, his skill in obtaining justice for victims of gang violence. For every trial, Osorio works to secure sometimes-elusive witnesses and to educate juries about gang culture and, since 2005, he has secured 12 first-degree murder convictions.

"It means a lot to me," Osorio said of the award. "Of course, I get teased by colleagues about it, and mothers of victims will say, `oh, I'm glad you're on the case, you're that DA.'"

Osorio often carries a load of 10 to 14 cases. In his first felony assignment at the Torrance, Calif., branch office as a deputy district attorney, he handled a death penalty trial involving three defendants, six defense attorneys, a second prosecutor, a murder, arson, rape, and theft. In another case, a mother lost her son in a gang shooting. Following his death, she moved to another area, where a second son was shot and killed.

"I wanted to see that in the end the right thing happened," Osorio said. "When you're seeking justice for a family that has lost someone, there's a great responsibility. They have nowhere else to turn."

Of course, being the one they turn to to prosecute violent gang members doesn't come without risk, but, as Osorio observed, "I think the reality is that most criminals know if they do something to one prosecutor, there's just another who'll do the case. One time I sent a gangster away for 150 years, and he said to me, `You had to do what you had to do.'"

Osorio was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, and immigrated with his family to Queens, N.Y., when he was 2 years old. He didn't know he wanted to pursue a law career until he graduated from Colgate. In his third year at Georgetown's law school, he applied to DA offices in New York City and Los Angeles. "My friends would call and say `New York, 30 degrees. LA, 70,' then hang up. And that brought me to LA," he joked.

Osorio is quick to find humor in himself and his life, but the problem of gangs is one he makes no jokes about. Gangs, he said, have spread across the United States and beyond.

"Right now, we're more reactive than proactive," he said. "I get the case once the crime has been done, and I don't know that you can affect people's lives any more than you get the murderer off the street and you have a family that feels some sense of justice. But, still, they're never going to be complete again. I'd like to make an impact before these kids become gangsters."

— Vicki Wilson
16b
Cathy Epley '80 [Photo by Tim LaBarge]

Cathy Epley '80 has been on a mission: to turn the history of both her father's naysayers — and his patients — on its ear.

In the 1980s, her father, Portland, Ore., ear surgeon Dr. John Epley, had conceived of a treatment that cures the most common cause of chronic dizziness, a debilitating condition affecting several million Americans known as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). For years the medical community rejected and ridiculed his breakthrough because his approach "went against existing theory," explained his daughter.

Dr. Epley hypothesized that particles in the inner ear canal can cause vertigo, and that a series of specific rotations of the body would dislodge them, a much simpler process compared to widely accepted treatments, some of which were invasive, such as surgery.

Fast forward nearly two decades, to Sept. 11, 2001. Although by then his theory and treatment technique had become accepted by the medical community (coined the "Epley maneuver"), many patients were being misdiagnosed and treated improperly with techniques that did not follow his methods. Cathy Epley, who worked in marketing at a medical device company, had joined her father at a medical conference in Denver. The catastrophe that day left her stranded with colleagues of her father's. They told her more than she'd previously known about his struggles, and she became determined to get him his due.

Relying on her unique career background, which also includes the fields of politics and business, Epley set out to build a company, from the ground up, that would develop technology based on her father's approach to patient care. Using "persistence, a little bit of luck, and judgment," she launched Vesticon in 2003, and it has been an intense few years.

"Because I didn't come up through the traditional way with an MBA" — and armed with her liberal arts education — she said, "I have an interesting skill set. Until last year, I was doing the job of two or three executives." Realizing early on that venture capitalists wouldn't be interested in a niche and unproven market, Epley applied for grants from the National Institutes of Health, which enabled her to set up a lab and office, and hired a staff to refine the company's first product, the Epley Omniax, a computer-controlled chair used to diagnose and treat patients using the "Epley maneuver."

After being "completely out of my comfort zone for four years," Epley said, the hard work is finally paying off. Vesticon has received approximately $4.8 million from the NIH Small Business Innovation and Research program (a record amount for this type of grant both in the state and for the awarding institute). After The Oregonian featured the Epleys' story in December, calls from investors, possible patients, and even a filmmaker seeking to make a documentary came pouring in.

By this spring, with several sales of the Omniax chair to research clients, a national clinical study underway, and other products in development, Epley had begun plans to search for private equity, while awaiting FDA clearance to begin commercial sales.

With this much already achieved, success is surely only a few "Epley maneuvers" away.

— Brittany Messenger '10
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