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Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

OSHA fines company where 18-year-old employee fell into sulfuric acid

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
February 7, 2008

REDWOOD CITY — The circuit-board company where an 18-year-old employee drowned in a vat of sulfuric acid in September did not have adequate protection around its chemical vats, one of 17 health and safety violations, according to a report released Wednesday.

Fernando Gonzalez, 18, died at after slumping head-first into a vat containing sulfuric acid. His death kicked off a California Department of Occupational Safety and Health investigation, which found that the company did not install covers or guardrails on several chemical vats used in circuit-board production, according to a report from OSHA investigator Michael Frye.

The report also found that Coastal Circuits’ vats of sulfuric acid were 24 to 32 inches tall, far below the 36-inch state requirement. Gonzalez was not wearing safety glasses, a respirator or a smock when he died, although those items were available at the factory, Frye said.

Coastal Circuits has fixed eight of the violations and will remedy the remainder immediately, company spokesman Sam Singer said. The firm has until Feb. 18 to correct the problems and pay $3,800 in fines.

The company, where several of Gonzalez’s family members work, “is still emotionally scarred by Fernando’s death,” Singer said.

But the violations do not explain exactly what led Gonzalez to plunge into the vat before he drowned, OSHA spokeswoman Kate McGuire said. Redwood City police Sgt. Chris Cesena said he was working alone in the factory at the time he died.

“No one knows what really happened — we can only imagine,” McGuire said.

At the time of his death, police speculated that Gonzalez was overcome by fumes and passed out. No foul play was suspected, and police are no longer investigating the case, Cesena said.

“Measurements … indicated no concentrations of airborne contaminants that would have been high enough to cause a person to lose consciousness or become disoriented,” Frye said.

Other employees reported that there were times when ammonia fumes were irritating, the report said. However, high ammonia levels probably would have forced Gonzalez to leave the work area, Frye said.

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office is still investigating the incident to determine whether it will file any criminal or civil charges against Coastal Circuits, Assistant District Attorney Karen Guidotti said.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 7, 2008 at 8:32 PM

Residents do their own crime-fighting

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
October 7, 2007

San Francisco resident Heather World was taking a noontime walk in Glen Park when she heard the screams. Then a man came running toward her, carrying a purse — and being chased by another woman. When World crouched to knock him over, she noticed his car, standing with the engine running and the door open. She took the keys and threw them to the woman pursuing the mugger, while World’s husband, Dan, chased and wrestled him until police came.

“It was almost like a playground fight,” World said. In one moment, she decided she could fight him. “He looked scared and kind of pudgy, and I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to let him get away with it.’”

She isn’t the only one with a fighting instinct.

Earlier this year, the victim of an attempted mugging in a parking lot on the 400 block of Hickey Boulevard in South San Francisco pretended that someone was sneaking up behind his attacker, South San Francisco police Sgt. Joni Lee said. When the would-be mugger turned to look, the victim pretended to retrieve a weapon from his car; the mugger fled.

However, such cases are rare. Though 126 people have been robbed or mugged in South City since Jan. 1, only one fought back, Lee said. In Redwood City, there hasn’t been a single incidence of a victim fighting back in three years, despite a reported 252 robberies since July 1, 2005, Redwood City police Capt. Chris Cesena said.

“It’s not very common, although it does happen,” said Sgt. John Loftus, who works robbery detail for the San Francisco Police Department. In fact, police discourage victims from defending themselves in a mugging.

“We had two men shot in recent robbery attempts, and they were shot because they fought back,” Loftus said. “We strongly urge people to surrender their wallets and cell phones. You get another one — it’s not worth it.”

For those worried about being mugged, Impact Bay Area offers self-defense classes for women, in which they learn how to function in an attack — even when they are too scared to move, Impact Director Erica Newman said.

“Sometimes you freeze so much you don’t hand over your belongings, or you don’t know where safety is,” Newman said. “Studies say that some type of resistance is better; if you go through post-traumatic stress afterward, you tend to heal better because you resisted.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

October 7, 2007 at 11:03 PM

Posted in Crime, San Francisco

Tanker driver has criminal past

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
April 30, 2007

The tanker driver whose accident is expected to wreak havoc on the East Bay-San Francisco commute for months to come — and who has a criminal history including a nearly three-year stint in prison — is likely to face a simple citation or a misdemeanor for his involvement in the collapse and closure of sections of the MacArthur Maze.

Early California Highway Patrol reports suggest James Mosqueda, 51, may have been speeding, but there is no evidence that he was driving under the influence. The speed limit on the portion of the Maze he was driving is 50 miles an hour.

Only Mosqueda was injured in the gasoline tanker accident — he suffered second-degree burns to his hands, arms and face.

“Take away the big dramatics, and we’re talking about a property-damage-only collision,” said Mike Wright, officer with the CHP. Such accidents warrant no more than a citation, he added.

“If someone gets hurt or dies, you can look at a felony, but we’re not looking at that here,” Wright said.

Mosqueda served two years and eight months in prison following a 1996 arrest for heroin possession in Sacramento County, court records show. His criminal rap sheet, which stretches back to 1981, includes arrests for burglary, felony drug charges and possession of stolen property, according to the California Department of Corrections and the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.

The Woodland resident has been driving trucks for South San Francisco-based Sabek Transportation for 10 months. He was able to obtain his commercial trucker’s license despite a history of criminal activity because the California Vehicle Code does not prevent a convicted felon who has served his sentence from working as a truck driver as long as he has a clear driving record, CHP Chief Steve Vaughn said.

After the accident, Mosqueda walked more than a mile to a gas station on Grand Avenue, where he flagged down a taxi and was driven to Kaiser Hospital in Oakland. He was later transferred to St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco. He remains in stable condition.

Mosqueda’s family released a statement Monday, saying they “are grateful that no one else was hurt and thank God that James is on the road to recovery.”

Caltrans officials could not be reached to determine whether they might hold Mosqueda or Sabek Transportation responsible for damage caused in Sunday’s crash.

Officials with Sabek did not return calls for comment Monday.

This is not Sabek’s first tanker accident in the Bay Area. In June of 2006, a Sabek truck overturned on the freeway connector from westbound I-780 to eastbound I-80 in Vallejo, dumping 4,500 gallons of diesel fuel onto the roadway and into nearby Vallejo Creek, according to a U.S. Coast Guard report.

Although Sabek Transportation assumed responsibility for the creek cleanup, it’s unknown whether the Coast Guard filed charges against the company for the spill, a violation of federal law, according to Dana Michaels, spokeswoman with the California Department of Fish and Game.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

April 30, 2007 at 11:44 PM

Posted in Breaking news, Crime

Beauty schooler nabbed taking photos in bathroom

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
April 5, 2007

A Palo Alto man arrested on charges of illegally photographing a student in a Sequoia High School men’s room will return to San Mateo County Court on May 2 to face misdemeanor charges.

David Hill, 33, was arrested March 29 at the high school, where he was offering haircuts during a job fair, according to Redwood City Police Department Capt. Chris Cesena. Hill allegedly entered a men’s restroom and began photographing a male student, who reported the incident to school officials. They, in turn, called police.

Hill was arrested just after noon and taken to San Mateo County Jail, where he was cited and released, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. He has no record of prior offenses in San Mateo County.

When he returns to court, Hill faces two misdemeanor charges, one related to taking photographs in a bathroom or dressing room, and another related to harrassing a juvenile, according to Cesena.

“An adult did a stupid thing, which we quickly handled,” Sequoia High School District Superintendent Pat Gemma said. “We’re still trying to sort out what this guy’s purpose was. Now the courts will deal with him.”

Hill is a cosmetology student at College of San Mateo, according to Cesena. Officials at the college would not formally comment on the situation Thursday.

“We do not comment on matters that are being handled by the appropriate law enforcement agency,” said Beverly Madden, a spokeswoman for the college.

Officials at CSM are following disciplinary procedures, Madden added. Although the college’s student handbook does not explicitly address illegal activities performed off campus, students who violate CSM policy face disciplinary action ranging from removal of student privileges to suspension or expulsion.

In an unrelated case, San Carlos School District coach Neal Sato was convicted in 2006 on charges that he videotaped several female members of his volleyball team while they changed in his office. Last November, Sato pleaded no contest to the molestation of four 13-year-old girls connected with the videotaping plot. He was sentenced to six years in state prison, Wagstaffe said.

Sato, 35, of San Bruno, was alleged to have videotaped up to about 100 female students, many of whom could not be identified by investigators due to the quality of the video footage, as they changed clothes in his office in 2004 and 2005.

This article originally appeared in San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

April 5, 2007 at 10:20 PM

Pet store banned from selling animals

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 19, 2006

A pet store owner accused of housing animals in filthy, unhealthy conditions has been ordered not to sell any pets through December 2008.

A San Mateo County Superior Court decision Thursday forbids Mohammed Olfat, the owner of Laurelwood Pet Store in San Mateo, from selling any animals at his Hillsdale Road store until Dec. 13, 2008. In August, 289 animals were seized from the store after they werefound living in soiled cages, eating from food dishes containing feces and living in fish tanks without enough water, according to Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA officials.

This isn’t Olfat’s first offense — he served 14 days in jail after pleading guilty in March to charges that he mistreated and sold sick cats and dogs. He also spent five days in jail in 2004 on similar charges.

“There are people who need to go to jail and there are people who just need not to be around this number of living animals,” PHS director Ken White said. “This is a situation where you need to make sure no more animals get caught up in it.”

Olfat, reached at the pet store Monday, said the ban won’t hurt his business, which is primarily based on pet supply sales and an educational newsletter. He argued that taking the issue to court was unnecessary.

“If they had come to us in a nice way and told us, ‘Don’t sell that,’ it would have been fine,” Olfat said. “We didn’t really have to go to court — they just attacked us.”

Ongoing problems at the pet store have not stirred controversy among neighbors, according to Georgette Sarles, president of the Laurelwood Homeowners Association, who was relieved to hear the court’s decision.

“If they’re doing such a bad job of taking care of the animals, the best thing for the situation is that they’re prohibited from selling them,” Sarles said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 19, 2006 at 10:28 PM

Posted in animals, Crime, San Mateo

Judge’s ruling places some constraints on raucous household

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 18, 2006

San Mateo won a partial victory in its fight to set limits on a local homeowner after a judge agreed that ongoing noise and alleged criminal activity coming from the house violated neighbors’ quality of life.

San Mateo Superior Court Judge Beth Freeman ruled Friday to place a civil injunction on Ohaiha Fonua Sr. and his home at 107 N. Grant St., but stopped short of evicting Fonua and his extensive family from living in the home, as San Mateo city officials had requested.

The injunction’s details will be finalized over the next 15 days and may include a curfew, along with a condition holding Fonua responsible for any criminal activity on the property, according to attorney Lance Bayer, who represented San Mateo in the four-day triallast week.

“We are pleased with … the recognition that a property owner has responsibility to maintain the property in a way that prevents public-nuisance activity,” Bayer said.

John Hartford, the attorney representing Fonua, did not return calls for comment Sunday.

Bayer called 14 witnesses who testified about ongoing activity at the North Grant Street home, including what were described as almost-nightly street parties, public drinking and drug use, heckling of police officers and multiple shootings and assaults. Hartford called two witnesses, including Olaiha Fonua Sr. and another member of the family.

One of Bayer’s witnesses, Tyrone Gadson, described an encounter in February 2004 with a crowd gathered in front of the house in which he was chased down the block and shot in the side. Two residents of the house, Jared Fonua and John Tonga, were arrested for Gadson’s shooting; Tonga was convicted of attempted murder, while Fonua was acquitted.

Freeman’s ruling is a relief to many San Mateo residents, including those in the North Central neighborhood where the Fonuas live, according to neighborhood representative and planning commissioner Bertha Sanchez. Residents there often tried to intervene, but failed to stem the problems on North Grant Street.

“I hope the city can continue to monitor areas and make sure they don’t get to this point again — or put pressure on landlords to consider the problems a particular tenant might have,” Sanchez said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 18, 2006 at 9:37 PM

Posted in Courts, Crime, San Mateo

Family painted as criminally disruptive as hearing begins

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 12, 2006

Olaiha Fonua Sr.’s San Mateo home was not only ground zero for loud parties that bothered neighbors, but it also served as a “safe house” for criminal and gang activity, according to opening statements in San Mateo County Superior Court Monday.

Attorney Lance Bayer is representing the City of San Mateo in its effort to evict Fonua and up to 50 others for one year from a house at 107 North Grant St. — a last-ditch effort by the city to curb what police say are ongoing problems at the home. Neither Fonua nor any of the members of his extended family were present in the courtroom as Bayer called witnesses to the stand.

Among those witnesses was San Mateo Police Lt. Alan Parisian, who ran the police department’s street-crimes team in 2004 and has led the city’s effort to gather evidence against the house’s residents.

Parisian described loud parties in front of the house that could be heard up to a block away, and showed photos from MySpace in which members of the household stood in front of the house and made hand signs allegedly associated with the West Side Tongans gang. He also described short-term visits he said were consistent with narcotics sales.

“We’re dealing with a nuisance that stems from the property owner allowing this to be a party house in the worst sense,” Bayer said.

Attorney John Hartford, representing the Fonuas, has consistently declined to comment on the case, as have the Fonuas.

One of Bayer’s witnesses, Tyrone Gadson, described an encounter in February 2004 with a crowd gathered in front of the house in which he was chased down the block and shot in the side.

Two residents of the house, Jared Fonua and John Tonga, were arrested for Gadson’s shooting; Tonga was convicted of attempted murder, while Fonua was acquitted.

“The family feels that it can rule that area of San Mateo,” Gadson said. “I have friends who have been threatened, but I’m the only one who will not let someone push me off the block where I was raised.”

The court trial is expected to continue through Thursday or Friday, and will be decided by San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Beth Freeman rather than a jury.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 12, 2006 at 9:40 PM

Posted in Courts, Crime, San Mateo