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Hayden Demands Probe of MTA Job Safety

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As investigators looked more closely into whether the thickness of a chain contributed to the death of a Red Line subway worker, state Sen. Tom Hayden on Sunday renewed his calls to halt tunneling work, and demanded a probe into job safety.

Hayden, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles, has long criticized the subway and pledged last week that he would immediately stop the digging if elected. The Democratic legislator said Sunday that the fatal accident shows a need to investigate safety conditions throughout the massive Metropolitan Transportation Authority project.

“There’s been a pattern of negligence,” Hayden said. “It’s just a relentless story of disregard.”

Mayor Richard Riordan, who is seeking reelection and is a member of the MTA board, said last week that he favors completing the tunneling already underway in the Santa Monica Mountains between Hollywood and the east San Fernando Valley, an extension to the Eastside and possibly one to the Mid-City area.

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MTA board chairman Larry Zarian said Hayden’s call to stop construction is “overkill.”

“It’s unfortunate we’ve had a tragic situation like this. It’s the first fatality on the Red Line and I don’t want to minimize what has happened,” Zarian said. “But we have to be rational and understand what has happened. I’m not sure that Sen. Hayden knows enough details to be calling for a complete shutdown of the entire system.”

Zarian said he will meet with subway contractors today to try to determine what caused the mishap. “We will take a serious look at what happened and possibly stop construction, until we find out what preventive measures need to be taken.”

Riordan campaign press secretary Todd Harris declined Sunday to address Hayden’s charges.

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“The mayor’s thoughts and prayers are with the family today and he does not feel that it’s an appropriate day for partisan political stunts.”

Jaime Pasillas, 52, of El Sereno, died early Saturday after he was struck in the head by a half-ton bucket that broke free of its moorings during work beneath Hollywood Boulevard. It was the first fatality during a decade of work on the subway project.

Investigators said they were focusing on the thickness of a chain that snapped, sending the 5-foot-long bucket swinging into Pasillas. The bucket was suspended on one side by a double strand of chain, but the length that broke was a single, thinner length, according to investigators who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was unclear whether the chain that snapped met safety requirements.

An MTA spokesman said Saturday that the subway project’s safety record compares favorably with those of similar projects.

Pasillas’ wife, Sally, said Sunday that her husband had worked on the subway project for more than five years, but had only joined the Hollywood project a week ago.

“He just said it was underground--it was dangerous. That’s all he said. He said any construction work is dangerous.”

Her understanding of the accident was sketchy, she said, adding that no one from the construction company had contacted the family, which includes four children 14 and older, as of Sunday evening.

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The fatality followed a string of safety lapses connected with the subway project in the past two months, according to sources and documents obtained by The Times.

A worker was hurt Friday when a 400-pound cylinder fell on him in the Santa Monica Mountains tunnel. A week earlier, the driver of an underground rock-hauling train had to leap out of it after its brakes failed , according to an MTA memo obtained by The Times.


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