Family of contractor killed on the job seeks damages
|By Mary Elizabeth Williams-Villano|
The man was electrocuted while trimming a tree at his church.
Another tragic on-the-job death to report, this time of a man who owned a tree-trimming and landscape company in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California. His family is suing for wrongful death, according to a story published by The Coast News.
This incident highlights the dangers faced by green industry people who work in and around trees every day. Moises Hernandez Sr., 59, had been trimming a thick pine tree on the outskirts of a church property this past August when his hand-held metal tool apparently touched a San Diego Gas & Electric company power line. This resulted in a 12,000-volt shock that proved fatal.
Ironically, Hernandez was killed while working on the grounds of the very Solana Beach house of worship he and his sister had been attending for the last several years, Coastal Fellowship Church.
His sister, Andrea Alvarado-Hernandez, 55, was in shock when she got the call telling her that her brother had been killed. “I never thought something like this could happen,” she says.
The devoted father, uncle and brother had been a frequent volunteer in the community, regularly maintaining the dozens of trees located on the church grounds.
According to the police report, the church’s caretaker called 911 after hearing a “loud buzzing” noise. First responders from the Solana Beach Fire Department arrived on the scene shortly afterward.
They discovered Hernandez Sr. suspended in the tree and unresponsive. The paramedics immediately contacted SDG&E to cut the power so they could free Hernandez from the tree. The branches were “very close to, if not touching” the power lines, according to a report by Nicholas Arvanitis, a San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy who arrived at the scene two hours after the initial call.
Alvarado-Hernandez rushed to the church. Although a half-dozen ambulances had arrived, she was told that her brother could not be moved until SDG&E workers arrived.
But it would be nearly three hours after her brother’s electrocution before 10 to 15 SDG&E trucks finally arrived, according to Alvarado-Hernandez’s daughter, Karina Moya, 31, who was there at the time.
The SDG&E employees were then able to cut the power. A paramedic pronounced Hernandez dead before his body was removed from the branches.
His sister recalled seeing him just hours before, where they had passed each other nonchalantly at the home they shared. He let her know he’d be working a little while at the church. “He was fine,” she said. “He had never even been sick.”
Now, nearly two months following their father’s accident, his children, Justine Hernandez, 27, and Moises Hernandez Jr., 22, are pursuing a wrongful-death lawsuit against the utility. They’ve hired the Los Angeles-based law firm of Carl D. Barnes to represent them. The firm, which specializes in personal injury and wrongful-death cases, anticipates the lawsuit may be worth “at least” $10 million.
But it’s not about the money, says Justine Hernandez. For his children, the lawsuit is about “(doing) the best for our father.”
Hawkins, a longtime investigator for the Barnes firm, says that not only is SDG&E liable for arriving late, but he also contends that the utility’s power lines weren’t properly insulated. It was Hawkins who was informed of the incident by a neighbor. He then decided to reach out to the Hernandezes and began putting together a team of litigators.
“We want to make sure everyone knows what happened,” says Hawkins.
The suit alleges that SDG&E was negligent in not properly pruning the tree. The Sempra Energy-owned company often hires contractors to trim trees near its lines throughout San Diego County to prevent electrocutions, fires or power outages.
SDG&E issued a statement saying “This incident remains part of an active investigation by local agencies and SDG&E. At this time, we are unable to comment.”
“My brother and I want answers and justice for our father,” Justine Hernandez says. “He was the best dad you can dream of.” Alvarado-Hernandez may join the lawsuit as a plaintiff in the next few weeks.
Hernandez Sr. and his eight siblings were born in Tecomán, Colima, Mexico, and moved to San Diego County 33 years ago. For the last 28 years, he has lived with Alvarado-Hernandez, a younger sister. The two single parents shared child-rearing responsibilities. She attended the Coastal Fellowship Church for the last 10 years, and her brother for the last six.
“For my mom, it was like she lost seven people in one,” Moya Alvarado-Hernandez says. “It wasn’t just her brother, it was her best friend and her Bible study partner.”
She added that her uncle had been like a father to her. “He’s all I’ve ever known. When I first moved away to college, he was the one who helped me move, and every move after that, he was there. I was going to have him walk me down the aisle.”