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Former Glendale city manager says broken sidewalk caused wife's death in $1-million claim

A former Glendale city manager, along with his two sons, has filed a $1-million claim against the city, claiming his wife died in a wheelchair accident caused by an uneven sidewalk, records show.

On the afternoon of March 16, James Starbird was pushing his wife, Carolyn, in a wheelchair on the sidewalk in the 1200 block of Ethel Street when the chair hit an uplifted sidewalk, thrusting his wife forward. She struck her head on the concrete, which caused a severe concussion, and died shortly afterward. She was 66.

"There are meter maids, meter readers — a lot of people who work for the city who had to have seen this elevation change in time to protect against this sort of accident," said the Starbird family's attorney Steven Glickman. "You can't have city personnel ignoring these dangerous conditions, especially with disabled people in wheelchairs."

City Atty. Mike Garcia declined to comment on the claim, other than to say it was under review. He did not know Thursday whether the city had received any complaints about that particular sidewalk prior to the incident.

After the incident, city officials spray-painted the roughly 1 1/4-inch change in elevation a bright orange, Glickman said, adding that if something that simple had been done earlier, "this tragic accident never would've happened."

When a broken, damaged or uplifted sidewalk is reported in Glendale, depending on the severity, crews are sent within a day to pave over the tripping hazard with asphalt, according to Roubik Golanian, the city's public works director.

"We make it safe immediately," he said, adding that in a rare occasion a temporary fix won't work, the city will wait until maintenance crews can replace the sidewalk.

He added that the City Council sets aside funding annually as part of a comprehensive sidewalk repair program.

"Depending on that amount, we do an inspection of a given district, and we hire a private contractor, and they go to work," Golanian said.

The city has 45 days to respond to the family's claim. If the city doesn't respond, the claim is deemed rejected and the Starbirds’ next alternative would be to file a lawsuit.

James Starbird was Glendale city manager for nearly 14 years, until 2011. He previously worked in the cities of Eureka, Monrovia and West Covina. 

alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Tchekmedyian writes for Times Community News.

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