Restaurant Review: City rejects wrongful death claim

Publication Date: Friday Nov 7, 1997

EAST PALO ALTO: City rejects wrongful death claim

Dispute over death of 12-year-old electrocuted on PG&E tower is probably headed to court

The East Palo Alto City Council has rejected a $3 million wrongful death claim filed by the parents of a 12-year-old boy who died while climbing an electric transmission tower in April.

John Penisoni, Jr., was electrocuted when he climbed the PG&E tower in the East Palo Alto baylands on April 20 and touched a 60,000-volt wire.

A lawyer representing his parents, Sione and Kolotina Penisoni, said a lawsuit "mostly likely" will now be filed against the city and against Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which owns the tower.

The city should be liable in Penisoni's death because city officials knew there was a danger in the baylands, said Omar Habbas, the family's attorney. "Prior to this incident, someone called the Police Department to say that children were climbing these towers," Habbas said. "The city never contacted PG&E" and nothing was done to prevent the kind of incident in which Peninsoni was killed, Habbas added.

Days after the April 20 accident, PG&E workers added razor wire to the towers to prevent children from climbing them and getting near live electric wires.

"This was a tragedy and we have taken some steps since then to do as much as we could do in East Palo Alto to prevent something like this from happening again," said Mary Rodrigues, a PG&E spokesperson. She had no comment on a possible lawsuit.

Habbas may not have much luck in suing the utility company, however. Under state legislation, a utility company must not only be found negligent to be liable in a lawsuit, but also must demonstrate "willful misconduct" to be liable, Habbas said.

Habbas said that PG&E must establish climbing barriers on its electric towers, according to a state Public Utilities Commission order. "They are in flagrant disregard of those codes, but they don't have to do anything," Habbas said.

--Don Kazak

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