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          Front Page




Unsafe Campground: Worker's Death Triggered Probe of RV Site Used for Fiesta

By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
    State inspectors have discovered electrical hazards and serious safety problems at the RV campground near Balloon Fiesta Park.
    They launched the investigation last year after a city worker died at the park— perhaps of asphyxiation. The campground sits atop an old landfill that generates methane gas.
    It's unclear whether the campground, located on the south side of Alameda, across from the park, will be open to recreational vehicles for the October balloon fiesta.
    The state Occupational Health and Safety Bureau issued four citations earlier this year dealing with potentially dangerous conditions in a confined space.
    A city environmental specialist, Mary Carnes, died near a methane-gas-extraction well in August last year.
    The violations alleged the city had failed to post danger signs, keep people from entering the area, have a good training program or check whether permits were needed.
    The state later identified "very serious electrical hazards" dealing with transformers and other equipment at the park. Electrical power conductors were near water lines, and not enough was done to keep people from being electrocuted, the state said in a letter last month.
    The city is taking steps to fix the problems. It has shut off electricity to the site and improved ventilation at the well sites, sampled the air and put up signs.
    "We are taking the information from OSHA very seriously," said Mary Lou Leonard, the city's associate director of environmental health. "We just want to make sure the public is safe."
    The 78-acre campground sits atop Los Angeles Landfill and has more than 1,200 RV sites— about 600 of which were served by electricity.
    Paul Smith, executive director of the Balloon Fiesta, said that it's possible the park won't be open during the fall fiesta but the electrical problems can probably be worked out.
    "Our first priority is the safety of the people out there," Smith said.
    The city, meanwhile, hasn't determined whether Carnes' death was work-related. State medical investigators were unable to determine the official cause of death.
    But a toxicologist who investigated the death for an insurance company said Carnes was probably breathing air with little or no oxygen.
    In a letter to Cigna Group Insurance, toxicologist Frederick Fochtman wrote that he believes "with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that Mary Carnes died as a result of asphyxiation."
    The issue is important because Carnes' family would be eligible for death benefits if the death was work-related.
    Deputy City Attorney Randy Autio said the city is self-insured, and, at this point, Carnes death is a mystery.
    "We have a responsibility to taxpayers to pay only when the money is owed," he said.
    Her family, meanwhile, is waiting. "I have grave concerns over the safety issues ... where my wife was working," said Thomas Dellaira.