Slow recovery for Sport Chalet burn victims

Nearly two weeks after a gas explosion rocked the La Cañada Flintridge Sport Chalet store, two employees who sustained severe burns in the incident find themselves in a slow recovery.

Lauren Polzin, a 27-year-old who led the store's scuba department, can't move her hands or talk, said her husband, Neil Polzin.

Neil Polzin said a large portion of his wife's body sustained second- and third-degree burns.

“I can't imagine what she's going through, stuck in a bed, in pain,” he said. “We're hoping for the best.”

On March 1, Polzin and store supervisor Victor Gonzalez, 25, were injured after they were asked to shut off a gas valve when someone reporting smelling gas, according to fire officials. The incident occurred in a utility closet near the store's pool at about 10 a.m.

Polzin has worked at the store for about seven years and most recently most led the scuba department, said her husband.

Both employees were taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital immediately following the incident, but Polzin has since been transferred to another hospital in the region. Family members declined to say which one.

Gonzalez is currently in stable condition at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center after sustaining second and third degree burns to 61% of his body, said his wife, Elsie Martinez.

“He hasn't had any complications,” said Martinez. “We're just taking it one day at a time.”

Martinez said her husband has already talked about going back to work, but doctors do not have a timeline for his recovery.

“We're not sure how long it will take,” she said. “I know he wants to go back. He loves his job.”

The company has offered ample support, Martinez added. “They're doing everything they possibly can to help us out. They're concerned about him and about us.”

Last Friday, Sport Chalet announced a blood drive and fundraisers to support both employees.

The company will host the drive with the American Red Cross on March 26, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event will take place at the corporate offices of Sport Chalet, located next to the store on One Sport Chalet Drive in La Cañada.

The sporting goods chain has also established funds for both Gonzalez and Polzin through the website GiveForward. Money will be collected through July, but families of both employees will be able to access the funds at any time, said spokesman Evan Pondel.

Gift cards from restaurants, grocery stores and other shops can also be sent to Sport Chalet's corporate offices. They will be donated to the employees' families, according to the company.

Employees of Sport Chalet are covered by workers compensation, said Pondel, but the company cannot disclose when Gonzalez and Polzin will start to receive payments due to privacy concerns.

Health insurance is provided to all full-time employees of Sport Chalet, he added. Pondel said he could not say whether the two are full-time employees.

The explosion caused an estimated $10,000 in damage, officials said. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Arson Explosive Detail and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health continue to investigate the incident.

Donors can access the fundraisers online at and


Follow Tiffany Kelly on Google+ and on Twitter @LATiffanyKelly.

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