Man, 82, Daughter Barred From Home Called Health Hazard

Times Staff Writer

An elderly Huntington Harbour man was removed Wednesday from the house he shares with his daughter, a Cal State Long Beach engineering professor, after officials concerned about his health found the residence piled high with trash and filled with animal feces, rodents and insects.

City and county officials declared the Morse Circle residence a health and fire hazard. Earlier they had arrested the daughter, Elena Zagustin, 51, on an outstanding Municipal Court warrant that had been issued when she failed to appear Feb. 10 on charges that a Santa Ana home she owned had numerous housing code violations.

Santa Ana housing officials said Zagustin had corrected the violations, which involved overcrowding, broken windows, hazardous electrical wiring, damaged walls and plumbing and cockroach infestation, and her case was closed March 14. But she apparently never contacted the court to have the bench warrant vacated.

Zagustin, a Russian emigrant who has taught civil engineering at Cal State Long Beach for 21 years, could not be reached for comment Thursday.


Her 82-year-old father, Anatol Zagustin, who suffers from cancer and must be fed through tubes, was removed from their home in the 16000 block of Morse Circle by Orange County Social Services officials after they concluded that it was both a fire and a health hazard.

Neighbors in the waterside tract say they have complained about the outside appearance of the Zagustins’ residence to Elena Zagustin and to City Hall for years.

The interior of the four-bedroom home, however, is what concerns authorities.

“It is the worst thing I have ever seen, bar none,” said Huntington Beach Environmental Officer Susan Tully, who inspected the home Thursday morning.


Added Huntington Beach Fire Marshal James Vincent: “I haven’t seen anything worse.”

“There were mice, rats, rotted food, it was 5 feet deep in trash and rotting food,” Tully said. “The water was not running, the toilets didn’t flush, there was only a small opening on her queen-sized bed for her to sleep and so much (junk) on his bed he couldn’t lay down. . . . He never would have gotten out of there if there had been a fire.”

Vincent said there were combustibles in the oven dangerously close to the pilot light, along with hazardous electrical wiring and numerous other fire-code violations. Tully said there were spider eggs in the oven, open cans of rotting cat food, animal feces “everywhere and the gnats were so bad you couldn’t hardly breath without inhaling them.”

The elderly Zagustin was taken Thursday morning to Humana Intercommunity Hospital in Huntington Beach, where he remained in fair condition Thursday evening, according to Judy Rhodes, a nursing supervisor.


Richard Williams, dean of Cal State Long Beach’s engineering school, said he had never heard Elena Zagustin mention her ailing father or her problems with the city of Santa Ana.

He said he was surprised by her arrest and added: “As a teacher, she was well-respected by the students.” Williams also said Zagustin had a “tremendous publishing record, one of the best in the school.”

It was on a Tuesday night two weeks ago that police officers and paramedics first encountered the unkempt house, according to Tully, Vincent and others, who provided the following account.

Someone in Gilroy, 30 miles south of San Jose, had reported to his local police that while talking long distance with Elena Zagustin, he heard her begin gagging, and she said she couldn’t breath, according to a police report of the call. The Gilroy Police Department notified Huntington Beach police and fire officials that they might have a medical emergency on their hands.


After banging on the front door of the Huntington Harbour residence, police and paramedics tried but were unable to find another way in. “Believing we might have someone inside who . . . needed medical aid, I kicked in the front door,” wrote Hungtington Beach Police Officer Steve Parkerton.

Paramedics searched the four-bedroom home and, after some difficulty, found a man later identified as Anatol Zagustin in a rear bedroom, Parkerton wrote. Paramedics examined him and found that, although he had had a recent surgery for cancer of the larnyx, he appeared to be all right.

Although Parkerton concluded his report by saying that he thought the house a “filthy” fire hazard and a “health hazard to the occupants and neighbors,” and believed a potential felony endangerment case might exist involving the elderly man, the situation did not come to city environmental official Tully’s attention until two weeks later.