Napa earthquake death: 2 weeks later, quake claims first victim


A 65-year-old Napa grandmother has died after she was struck in the head by a television during last month’s magnitude 6.0 earthquake, which produced the worst shaking to be recorded in region’s modern history.

Laurie Anne Thompson died Friday morning after suffering an intracranial hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain, the Napa County Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday. Her death is the first to be blamed on the Aug. 24 earthquake. It is the first quake fatality in California since the San Simeon earthquake in 2003.

Thompson had dozed off in a recliner in her living room about 2 1/2 feet from an old tube-style television set up on a 3-foot stand before the 3:20 a.m. quake hit. The television was not strapped to the stand or a wall.


“The last thing she remembers is her TV flying at her,” said Thompson’s daughter, Shannon Johnson.

Thompson was knocked unconscious, and awoke on the floor with a black eye, the television next to her.

Later that morning, Thompson told her daughter she was fine besides a dull headache, for which she had taken aspirin. Johnson said her first inclination was to get her mom to the hospital, but she was downplaying concerns.

“When I went and saw her, and saw the black eye, she was articulating very well. There was no deviation in her behavior. She was still my mom, and I downgraded it in my mind to a black eye,” Johnson said.

It was only later that her daughter found out that Thompson had sent a text message to another friend complaining of a “horrible” headache.

The next day, a Monday, Thompson told her son she wasn’t feeling well, noting her legs felt light. She went to shower before heading to the hospital, but then collapsed and had a seizure, Johnson said.


Doctors discovered she had suffered a massive subdural hematoma – in which bleeding fills the brain. She had emergency brain surgery that night. After the surgery, there was some hope -- she could squeeze hands and make eye contact -- but she died at Queen of the Valley Hospital on Friday morning, the Napa sheriff-coroner’s office said.

Thompson’s daughter said the family was devastated. Thompson spent her life caring for her family as a daughter, aunt and grandmother, her daughter said.

Johnson urged people to take blows to the head seriously and get medically evaluated as soon as possible.

“There are people that don’t take it seriously. And they need to. They just need to,” Johnson said. “She was fine. And then she wasn’t fine.”

For years, Thompson had cared for her ailing father in Sacramento before he died last year. She had just moved back to Napa 3 1/2 months ago for an active life as a grandmother.

“She had been a caretaker for her parents for 15 years … and this was her time,” Johnson said.

Thompson was known as Nanny T, often caring for her four grandchildren.

“Family was her hobby,” Johnson said. “She was everybody’s favorite aunt. She would put confetti in cards for people to throw out. She gave her nephew an alarm clock with her voice screaming, ‘Wake up!’ She was the goofy one, she was a great mom, and she was super funny.”

Johnson said her mother often took care of others before herself.

“And that’s what makes me the most sad,” she said. “She had just come to Napa. She was free from caretaking. She was set to live her life.”

Shaking from the Napa quake was strong enough to send large objects flying, said state geologist John Parrish.

“There will almost certainly be broken glass, and internal furnishings -- items such as paintings, pictures, books, vases and dishes -- tend to fly about,” Parrish said.

“It’s definitely physically possible for a television to be moving off the table it’s sitting on,” said U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Brad Aagaard.

The ground-shaking during the earthquake was the highest level recorded in modern times for downtown Napa. It was worse than the shaking felt during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 2000 Napa Valley earthquake.

While the shaking resulted in more than 100 buildings being red-tagged, meaning they are too dangerous to be entered, experts say people are much more likely to be injured by falling or flying objects -- such as televisions, lamps, glasses and bookcases -- than die in a collapsed building.

In the 1994 Northridge earthquake, for instance, a 28-year-old man died after he was struck by a microwave oven when his mobile home collapsed. Another two people were crushed under hundreds of pounds of books, model trains and other collectibles.

Experts recommend fastening big appliances like televisions and microwaves to walls using Velcro fasteners that can be purchased at hardware stores.

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