As he often did, 15-year-old Noel Meyers of Costa Mesa headed outside after dinner one May night in 1985 to hang out with his friends and climb a sturdy, old Monterey pine that soared more than 30 feet above his neighbor’s backyard.
But this time, Meyers’ hand somehow came into contact with a high-voltage power line near the tree, sending bolts of electricity through his body and hurtling him to the ground. He died a week later.
Now, in a trial that began Wednesday, the boy’s survivors will try to persuade a jury that Southern California Edison Co., the firm that contracted to trim the tree, and the family that owned it should be held responsible for the death.
“This death was preventable through the use of reasonable foresight,” the Meyerses’ attorney, Robert Keese, said in his opening statement in Superior Court in Santa Ana.
Defense attorneys argued that as tragic as the accident was, the Costa Mesa youth had no one to blame but himself.
“He should bear the responsibility for his own death,” Peter Simpson, the attorney for the Hanrahans--the neighbors on the 800 block of Santiago Road in Costa Mesa who owned the tree--told jurors.
No one is sure whether it was by accident or some mistaken design that Meyers’ hand came into contact with the 12,000-volt power line that crossed within a few feet of the Hanrahans’ tree.
Meyers, a sophomore at Costa Mesa High School, climbed the tree with two friends to a wooden plank, which was perched a few dozen feet up in the tree, so that they could get a better look at a commotion being caused by blaring sirens in the neighborhood.
Before his friends realized what happened, the Meyerses’ attorney says, the boy had somehow touched the live power line, which burned him and the tree.
The teen-ager fell to the ground and, following unsuccessful attempts by neighbors to revive him, was rushed to the hospital, where he died a week later.
“He wouldn’t have touched that power line on his own, I know that,” the boy’s mother, Nancy Meyers, said in an interview. “My son was very careful. He never had anything happen to him--never any broken bones, never had to go to the hospital.”
Attorney Keese, seeking unspecified damages in the Meyerses’ wrongful death suit, told the jury in his opening statement that he will show that the Hanrahans never warned the neighborhood children about the dangers of the tree, that the trimming service did not tend to the tree within a year as contracted, and that the power company erred in its placement and maintenance of the line near the tree.
“The danger posed should have been evident to anyone from either Southern California Edison or the Cotter Tree Service,” the attorney said.