Death of high-rise worker in downtown L.A. investigated as possible suicide

The death of an electrician who plunged from the 53rd floor of the downtown Los Angeles Wilshire Grand construction site is being investigated as a possible suicide, the coroner’s office confirmed Friday.

Los Angeles County coroner's spokesman Ed Winter said that Thursday’s death was reported as a possible suicide but no final determination has been made, and no note has been found.

“If there’s not a note, we have to take any physical evidence into account, contact family and see if there’s any type of ideations or history,” Winter said, adding that investigators could begin forming an opinion by next week.

Coroner officials identified the man as Joseph Sabbatino, 36, of Palmdale.

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Turner Construction, the company that manages the building site, said the worker had no reason to be above the third floor. Witnesses said it appeared he had removed his hard hat prior to the fall and that he was not wearing a tethered safety harness.

The floor level was also outfitted with an 8-foot-high “integrity fence” -- a metal barrier intended to keep construction workers, building materials and tools from falling out of the tower.  


Sabbatino landed on a moving car, the driver of which escaped injury, authorities said.

On Friday, a woman who answered Sabbatino’s telephone identified herself as his wife and said she had no comment.

In a statement, Turner Construction said safety protections were not a factor in the incident.

“We have confirmed with Cal/OSHA and LAPD that the incident which occurred at the Wilshire Grand project site today was not work-related,” the statement said.

“After an initial on-site investigation, Cal/OSHA has confirmed that no fall-protection violations were observed. Our hearts go out to the family of the deceased. We are also sending our deepest sympathies to our loyal and dedicated workers, for whom today’s tragedy is deeply saddening.”

It was Sabbatino’s second day on the job, the company said. His father, Vance Sabbatino, told KABC-TV Channel 7 that his son lived with depression and struggled to find a career.

He left his job as a real estate agent with Remax All-Pro in the Antelope Valley in December, a company official said.

“We send our deepest sympathy to his family and his loved ones,” said Mary Dennis, a company operations manager.

On his Remax profile, Sabbatino described himself as sincere, effective and determined.

“Wanting to expand my knowledge in other aspects, in 1999 I moved to the Antelope Valley and pursued construction where I learned about framing, electrical, and HVAC which continued to enhance my insight in real estate,” he wrote.

Chris Martin, head of the architectural firm that designed the Wilshire Center building, said the construction site was shut down after Thursday’s incident. He said there would have been no reason for Sabbatino to be doing electrical work that close to the edge of the building.

“We extend our condolences to the family and wish them well ... in a tragic situation,” Martin told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Martin would not say if the man was wearing a safety harness. A spokesman for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health said the man was an employee of Irvine-based ASSI Security. The agency has also launched an investigation into his death.

Michael Willey, owner of ASSI Security, said Sabbatino hadn’t been with the company very long. He said the company was trying to gather itself.

“At this point, we don’t have anything to say about our personnel,” Willey said.

The man’s death prompted an immediate shutdown and evacuation of the tower, as construction foremen were asked to conduct head counts of the on-site staff. The process took about an hour, said Dave Snodgrass, an operator of a construction elevator.

Martin said the project had a workforce of 891 people this week. No one had suffered a serious injury at the site until Thursday’s incident, he said.

The construction company said all workers went through a "comprehensive safety orientation" for the project. Sabbatino had completed his safety training on Wednesday.

Work on the project will resume Monday, when a site-wide meeting will be held with all workers. Grief counselors will be at the site for workers.

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1:42 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from the coroner's office.

This article was originally published at 7 a.m.