Jul 24, 2009

Accident victim dies after years in coma

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

A tragic chapter for the community and particularly for Efren Martinez of Cordova, N.M. and his family came to a close this week. Martinez died Tuesday after 13 ½ years in a coma caused by a traumatic electrical accident while working for a construction contractor at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Martinez’ brother-in-law Richard Pacheco, speaking for family, said, “This brings closure to the family. We did not want him to be forgotten.”

The accident occurred on Jan. 17, 1996. The father of two sons, he was 35 years old at the time, when a jackhammer he was using struck a 13,200 volt power line. According to Monitor reports from that time, Martinez was working in a basement at the former Plutonium Processing Facility on DP Road. He suffered massive electrical shock and went into cardiac arrest. He was treated by employees and emergency technicians who rushed to the site and was then taken to the intensive care unit at Los Alamos Medical Center. His heart was restarted, but he never woke up again.

During the years that followed, his case became symbolic of inadequate safety practices at Los Alamos. According to the Monitor summary, construction projects were halted for a lengthy period of time while reviews were conducted.

Subsequent laboratory statements acknowledged that Martinez was working on a job that had not been properly analyzed for health and safety hazards or adequately managed for the level of risk involved. Still later, Department of Energy occurrence reports surfaced detailing a series of mistakes that contributed to the injury.

“It was an accident waiting to happen,” Pacheco said, “It happened to be him.”

On June 23, 1998, the laboratory announced an “out-of-court” settlement had been reached in the case, that included a $13 million payment to the family, negotiated by celebrity trial lawyer Gary Spence.

“It was so many years ago, said Pacheco. “A lot of people lose track.”

The older son, Marcos is now 21 and Antonio is 17.

“The kids grew up without a father,” Pacheco said. “It’s been hard for them to see their father like that. They’re okay with it now. He died surrounded by friends and family till he took his last breath.”

During Martinez’ years in an unconscious state, he was cared for at the Sombrillo Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Los Alamos.

“The family wants to thank the nurses and the staff at Sombrillo for their outstanding care during the saddest and lowest times for them,” he said. “We also want to thank friends, coworkers and all the trade union members who helped the family when this accident struck.”

[Download the 176 page Type A Accident Investigation Board Report here.]


Anonymous said...

"symbolic of inadequate safety practices at Los Alamos" ... "accident waiting to happen"?

Please. We have more fucking rules and worthless mandates just to accommodate people like the victim. I am sick and tired of hearing how "unsafe" LANL is. We spend more time in training than working. Truthfully, if you can't read then get another job and the valley should not complain once they have gotten rid of their cash-cow on the hill.

Anonymous said...

I believe this was the incident that kicked off the Tiger Teams visits to LANL and LLNL and initiated the formalities of Integrated Safety Management across the complex - rules, rules, audits, audits . . .

Anonymous said...

Incorrect, 7:33. The Tiger Teams were ca. 1990 during Admiral Watkins' reign as Energy Secretary.

Anonymous said...

Geez, a staff member in IAT got clobbered for using a volt meter out of turn.

Anonymous said...

IAT staff member wasn't valley-folk who always claim discrmination for any attention to their laziness. anyone from the valley who gets hurt will immediately cry out that they were forced to do so (with fear of otherwise getting fired) on orders from their boss. lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my ... sad thing is that it works all the time.

Frank Young said...

Why do you have to go there? Couldn't we just stick to the facts? Tell us what he did "wrong", if anything, so nobody else will do it.

Anonymous said...

What retaliation for self-reporting? Burns and Mullen killed that guys career.

Anonymous said...

"IAT staff member wasn't valley-folk who always claim discrmination for any attention to their laziness"--7/27/09 10:49 PM

This attitude unfortunately, is why LANL is such a sick place to work at anymore. This is what the far right of the Republican party has become.

Anonymous said...

To my knowledge, before every excavation permit is issued and approved, utility drawings of the building are pulled and attached to the permit. After this event happened, it was discovered that research for the excavation did not cover older drawings and thus did not show the 13.2 kilovolt (kV) electrical cable in the building they were working on. A secondary research program was put into effective July 2000. Since this program was implemented, it has resulted in NO injuries or accidents.

I was astonished to read some of the comments. This accident DID bring a change in safety practices FOR THE GOOD! You cannot always blame the rules, management, people or the Republican party for problems. GET THE FACTS!!