Luggage cart that killed LAX worker had no seat belt, officials say

Luggage cart that killed LAX worker had no seat belt, officials say
Virgin Atlantic airplanes parked at Los Angeles International Airport. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles International Airport worker who was killed by a luggage cart in February was not wearing his seat belt at the time, and investigators who later inspected the cart found the lap belts had been removed, officials told the Times.

Menzies Aviation worker Cesar Valenzuela, 51, died in the early hours of Feb. 21 when he was run over by the baggage cart he was driving near the Virgin Australia terminal, according to a new report from the L.A. County coroner’s office.

Medical officials ruled his death an accident caused by blunt force trauma.

At 5 a.m. on Feb. 21, an LAX worker spotted a cart and two attached luggage trailers sitting unattended on an airport service road, the coroner's report said. When the employee drove closer to investigate, he saw Valenzuela lying on the pavement with his head under the cart's front left tire.


Los Angeles Fire Department officials pulled Valenzuela from under the cart and pronounced him dead. He had scrapes on his body, a wound on his head and tire marks on his orange reflector jacket, the coroner's report said.

An investigator for the coroner's office who arrived four hours after Valenzuela's death wrote in a report that the so-called tug had two flat tires and its front wheels had been turned sharply to the left.

There were no seat belt straps inside the cart, the investigator said, but two seat belt buckles were found hanging behind the driver's seat.

A spokeswoman for Valenzuela's employer, Menzies Aviation, said the company did not know when the belts had been removed.

"We don't know whether they were taken off, or how, or by whom," spokeswoman Maya Pagoda told The Times.

Menzies workers are required to wear seat belts and are expected to report any damage to their carts before heading onto the tarmac, Pagoda said. The cart Valenzuela was driving had been inspected nine days earlier and was in good condition then, she said.

Valenzuela had a heart condition that can cause dizzy spells or faintness, the coroner's report said. But an agency spokesman said it wasn't clear whether the heart condition had caused his fall.

"He had a bad heart," spokesman Ed Winter said. "Did he pass out from it? Was his heart skipping a beat? We aren't sure."

When Valenzuela reported for work at 4:30 a.m., his supervisor noticed that he looked "ill and pale and that his mannerisms were not usual," the coroner's report said. That information and the mention of Valenzuela's heart disease could "shed some light" on how he died, Pagoda said.

"None of us are doctors, but we know that the disease can lead to dizziness, even fainting spells at times," Pagoda said.

State workplace safety inspectors are conducting an investigation that will be finished within the next four months, a spokeswoman for California Division of Occupational Safety and Health said.


Twitter: @laura_nelson