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Filthy Home’s Owner Remains in Jail Over Previous Case

Times Staff Writer

A Cal State Long Beach professor--whose elderly father was removed from her filthy, rodent-infested Huntington Harbour home--remained in Orange County Jail on Friday night on charges of violating housing codes at a Santa Ana home she also owns.

Meanwhile, Huntington Beach police detectives said they are investigating whether Elena Zagustin, 51, neglected her father--who is 82 and has cancer--or endangered his health by housing him in conditions described by one health inspector as “the worst I’ve ever seen, bar none.”

Zagustin is a highly regarded civil engineering professor who has taught at Cal State Long Beach since 1967. She is also the faculty adviser of the 900-member campus chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

Susan Tully, Huntington Beach city environmental officer, said Zagustin’s four-bedroom waterside tract home was piled 5 feet high with trash and filled with rats, animal feces, cockroaches and other insects. Spider eggs were found in the oven, and combustibles near the pilot light.

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James Vincent, Huntington Beach fire marshal, said the numerous fire-code violations found during Thursday’s inspection prompted him to have the electricity shut off and the house sealed off as dangerously substandard. As a result, Anatol Zagustin, who must be fed by tubes but is said to be mentally alert, was removed by county Social Services Agency officials.

The elder Zagustin, who reportedly did not want to leave his home, remained hospitalized in good condition Friday.

Elena Zagustin was arrested Wednesday afternoon on an outstanding bench warrant issued Feb. 10 by a Municipal Court judge when she failed to appear on misdemeanor charges of violating housing codes at the home she owns and rents out on South Ramona Drive in Santa Ana.

Within a month of the warrant’s issuance, she had made necessary repairs to broken living room windows, hazardous electrical wiring, damaged walls and plumbing, and took care of rodent and bug infestations and overcrowding, so the case against her was cleared, said Dwayne Bennett, a Santa Ana deputy city attorney who filed the charges against her. However, she apparently neglected to return to court to clear the bench warrant, which carried a $10,000 bail.

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Elena Zagustin was booked Wednesday into the Huntington Beach City Jail and held there overnight in lieu of bail. On Thursday afternoon, Huntington Beach police officers transferred hern to Orange County Jail in Santa Ana, where she stayed overnight.

On Friday morning, she appeared before Municipal Court Judge Randell L. Wilkinson for arraignment on seven misdemeanor charges of violating the Santa Ana housing code. She claimed to be represented by an attorney, but one was not present, then pleaded not guilty to the charges. Although Elena Zagustin’s court case held no mention of the bench warrant, Wilkinson ordered that her bail remain at $10,000. She was returned to the jail, where she remained Friday night.

Wilkinson declined, through a bailiff, to be interviewed at his courtroom to explain the situation. He did not return phone calls later in the day.

Elena Zagustin could not be reached Friday, and court officials said no attorney has filed an appearance on her behalf.

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Several questions surrounding Elena Zagustin’s Huntington Beach case remain unanswered, but Tully, Vincent, police officers and others provided the following account of how her unkempt Huntington Harbour home was discovered.

On Aug. 30, police first visited the home, Tully said. A friend in Northern California had summoned authorities to the Morse Circle house because Elena Zagustin appeared to be having medical difficulties during a telephone call. Huntington Beach Officer Steve Parkerton kicked open the door when no one answered it, but did not find Elena Zagustin. The officials did find her father in a rear room, on a bed so filled with trash that he could only sit--not lie--on it.

In his report, the officer urged that county health and social services agencies further investigate the house, saying he viewed it as a health and fire threat to neighbors. He also suggested the possibility of bringing endangerment charges against the professor.

The following day, a spokesman said, the Huntington Beach Police Department mailed copies of Parkerton’s vivid description to both the Orange County Health Care and Orange County Social Services agencies. Officials with both agencies said they either did not know, or could not comment on, whether their departments responded.

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Dianne Edwards, director of the county Social Services Agency’s adult and employment services, said that if circumstances such as those described in the police report were presented to her office, one of her workers would have responded to the home within 24 hours.

But Tully, the Huntington Beach environmental officer, said that when she began calling county health agencies Wednesday morning to find out what, if anything, had been done, she could find no evidence of any action.

Nobody apparently was aware of the problem, Tully said. So at 11 a.m. Wednesday, she visited the home herself, finding Elena Zagustin there. Tully said the woman refused to open the door, but they talked through it.

Tully said she asked her if she could inspect the house and was refused entrance. Tully told her she would be forced to get a search warrant to enter, and Elena Zagustin replied that the house was a shambles because it had been burglarized while she was away on a weeklong trip to San Francisco.

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“I told her that I expected a police report on the burglary must have been filed, and she said she wasn’t sure, because she had never heard back from the police department,” Tully said.

Two hours later, Elena Zagustin appeared at the Huntington Beach Police Department to file a burglary report and was arrested on the bench warrant.

Tully and Vincent said that because the Morse Circle home has been deemed substandard, it would be a misdemeanor for Zagustin to enter her home.

They said she must first meet with city officials to work out if, how and when she will clean it out and repair it. She still may be prosecuted for the violations, Tully said.

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It remained unclear Friday whether the rats and insects--which Tully said are swarming around inside window sills--might be exterminated in the event Elena Zagustin provides no plan to do so herself.

Times staff writer Bob Schwartz contributed to this story.


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