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Cause Sought for Grip’s Death

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Problems with a camera boom counterweight may have been responsible for an accident that killed one crew member and injured another this week during filming of a Disney movie in rural San Bernardino County, state authorities said Friday.

But just what threw the boom off-balance and whether the crew was properly trained in the equipment’s use remained under investigation.

Matthew Gordy, 31, a San Fernando Valley native who lived in Thousand Oaks, was electrocuted and 33-year-old David Riggio of Encino was badly burned Wednesday when the camera boom they were handling shot 40 feet into the air, striking a major cross-country power line carrying 115,000 volts of electricity, said Cal/OSHA spokesman Dean Fryer.

Workers and equipment are not supposed to come within 10 feet of a power line under state safety regulations, but Fryer said the Inyo-Kern-Searls power line was located about 49 feet above where the Disney crew was filming early morning, live-action sequences for the animated film, “Dinosaur.”

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Preliminary reports show crew members arrived at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday on the job site in Poison Canyon, near the desert town of Trona, about 150 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. They set up a metal camera boom mounted on a flatbed trailer when something caused the boom to rise.

One worker was on the truck, adjusting turn-screws, while two others were on the ground adjusting weights and counterweights. Fryer declined to discuss the exact positions of Gordy and Riggio.

Officials said the circumstances leading up to accident are the focus of their investigation.

“Something made the boom rise,” Fryer said. “Was it too much weight? Or was there some other malfunction with the equipment? Training is another issue.”

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The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said the injured men were rushed to nearby Ridgecrest Community Hospital in Ridgecrest. Gordy died shortly after arrival, while Riggio was examined and transferred to the Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital.

Riggio, who suffered burns and electrical injuries to his feet, hands and chest, was scheduled to be operated on early this morning, said Dr. Peter H. Grossman, a surgeon at the center named for his father. The current entered his hands, traveled through his body and exited through his feet.

“Given his relative physical condition and his age, we will quote him as being in fair condition,” said hospital spokesman Larry Weinberg. “However, it is necessary to note that the burns themselves are serious and at least a portion of one of his extremities, his right foot, is in danger of being amputated.”

In Thousand Oaks on Friday, Gordy’s widow mourned her husband and said that no Disney officials have called to offer condolences.

“I have not heard from any emissary of the Walt Disney Co. to this day,” Krista Gordy said, fighting tears. “What I really want to say--and why I’m even talking to the media--is that Matt worked in the entertainment business for 12 years.

“He gave blood and sweat and a lot of life to that business. He finally paid his life to that business. I want his death to be acknowledged in the industry, because that was where he worked.”

Disney officials extended sympathies to Krista Gordy and according to a Disney spokesperson, the company contacted her the morning of the accident, flew her to the site and remained with her the entire day.

“Necessary investigations have to be conducted, the primary one being with Cal/OSHA,” said Disney spokeswoman Terry Curtin. “The results are not in, and when they are received all parties involved will be immediately notified.

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“I understand this is a very trying time for Mrs. Gordy, and she will receive additional information the minute it’s available.”

Krista Gordy, 28, said she learned of her husband’s death from a doctor at Ridgecrest Community Hospital around 10 a.m. Wednesday, about two hours after the accident occurred.

“The production company called me first and said, ‘We need to give you the number of someone at a hospital. They need some information from you. There’s been an accident on the set, and Matt’s at the hospital.’ ”

The mother of a 13-month-old with another child due in October, Krista Gordy said she knew little about her husband’s work conditions, and she would not speculate about whether his death could have been prevented.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to get electrocuted making movies,” added her father, Bill Nordstrom. “Do you?”

Gordy was a grip with Local 80 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Grips are responsible for manipulating lights, on-set rigging and moving cameras.

Kent Jorgensen, a safety training and education representative for the union, declined comment, citing the state investigation. He said union colleagues were dismayed by the accident but would not discuss what transpired on the set.

Other entertainment industry sources said the accident was bound to have procedural consequences within the industry. “This is something that is going to fester awhile,” said one source familiar with the tragedy, adding that no formal training procedures for grips exist.

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Just two weeks ago, a draft report circulated among members of the Industry Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee, a Los Angeles area entertainment industry group, recommended that the organization’s safety bulletins include a statement about grounding camera platforms when working near power lines.

The draft report also reiterated Cal/OSHA regulations that state: “Under no circumstances should any portion of the equipment or its occupants come within 10 feet or less of an energized power line.”

Another source added, “Training is always an issue. But common sense should tell you that you don’t let anything touch a power line.”

Times staff writers Kate Folmar and Karima A. Haynes contributed to this story.


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