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California

Man, 67, died 12 minutes after PG&E cut power, but autopsy says outage wasn’t the cause

Power lines
Power lines that run through South Gate tower over pedestrians and traffic.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A 67-year-old man with health issues died 12 minutes after Pacific Gas & Electric cut the power to his Pollock Pines neighborhood in Northern California late Wednesday, and his daughter believes the outage was a contributing factor.

However, an autopsy by the El Dorado County Coroner’s Office late Friday determined the cause of death was a heart issue, not the power outage, a spokesman said.

Robert Mardis Sr. was using a continuous positive airway pressure machine that helps keep airways open when sleeping, but it stopped working when the electricity was cut by PG&E around 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday, said Marie Aldea, his daughter. She said her father collapsed and died 12 minutes after the power went out at her home, where her father was staying.

“The power had just gone off, so he was going to his portable oxygen machine,” Aldea said. “We weren’t even able to get to the generator it happened so quick.”

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The El Dorado County Sheriff/Coroner’s Office conducted a postmortem exam Friday afternoon.

“An autopsy was completed this afternoon and the cause of death was determined as severe coronary artery atherosclerosis,” the office said in a statement. “Mardis also had a clinical history of COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]. The investigation into this death has concluded and this case is considered closed.”

Millions of Californians could spend days without power as the state’s largest utility continues shutting off electricity in a desperate attempt to avoid wildfires sparked by windblown power lines.

Asked to elaborate, sheriff’s Sgt. Anthony Prencipe said in an email that “the power outage was NOT the cause of death.”

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PG&E’s intentional power outages this week — aimed at preventing wildfires caused by wind-damaged electrical equipment —elevated concerns about how the elderly, disabled and poor would cope, especially in California’s rural areas.

Aldea said she will not pursue the issue but remains convinced that the outage played a role in the death of her father, a former gardener at Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills.

“The power outage didn’t help,” she said. “It was only a matter of time before this [death] happened, but it happened sooner than it was supposed to.”

Before the autopsy, Gov. Gov. Gavin Newsom, was asked by reporters about the death and said he supported the sheriff’s office investigating.

“That is devastating beyond words,” Newsom said of Mardis’ death. “Losing a family member is horrific.”


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