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Son Killed in 1981 : Electrocution-Death Suit Against Anaheim Near End

Times Staff Writer

On a stormy morning in October, 1981, Manuel Mendoza was forced to stand and watch as his 16-year-old son, David, pleaded for help while 10,000 volts of electricity surged through his body.

Almost six years later, a lawsuit filed against Anaheim by Mendoza, a Coca-Cola Co. maintenance worker, and his wife, Obdulia, an assembler at an electronics company, is nearing its end. The couple seek $1.2 million as compensation for the death of their son and for the trauma that the father has suffered since witnessing it.

Final arguments by the Mendozas’ attorney, Stanton T. Mathews, were completed Monday afternoon. The defense is expected to finish its closing arguments today.

Testimony at the trial has shown that at 4:30 a.m. on Oct. 1, 1981, all lights at the intersection of McCloud Street and Norman aAvenue went out for about a minute. Two to three minutes later, they flickered again.

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Benton Tatum, an electrician, testified last week that he ran outside after seeing a bright glow, fearing a house fire. He ran back home and notified the Anaheim Fire Department that a live wire was down and had started a grass fire.

At about the same time, David Mendoza had charged from his house at 952 S. McCloud St. with a fire extinguisher. According to Mathews, when Mendoza reached the wire, it was dead. As he leaned over to extinguish the grass fire, employees at the Lewis substation of Anaheim’s Municipal Utilities Department re-energized the line, sending a surge of electricity through it and whipping the wire against the youth, Mathews said.

Manuel Mendoza then rushed to help his son but Tatum held him back, Mathews said, adding that if Mendoza had tried to pull his son from the wire, he would also have been electrocuted. When firefighters arrived, they watched for two minutes as the victim motioned with his arms for them to help him, Fire Capt. Tom Kresal testified last week.

William DuCoing, a city utility supervisor, testified that Kresal phoned the substation to have power to the line shut off, but that DuCoing refused because only utility personnel could make such a request. Not until a utilities troubleshooter arrived at the fire scene and called in was the power shut off at 5:11 a.m., testimony showed.

DuCoing, who has been a supervisor for 13 years, said Monday that the policy of re-energizing a circuit breaker a minute after it breaks is industrywide and has not been changed since David Mendoza’s death.

The only difference between 1987 and 1981, he said, is that the line now would be re-energized automatically instead of manually.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys contend that the city negligently re-energized the line without knowing the consequences. Defense attorney Nancy E. Zeltzer is expected to argue today that city employees were acting only according to the book and that David Mendoza’s actions “substantially contributed” to his death.


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