Answers Sought in Suicide of Calif. City Worker

Saturday, 19 Mar 2011 07:14 AM

 

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COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Family, friends and police are struggling to understand why a Southern California city employee who was poised to advance in his career and had recently trained to climb Mt. Everest jumped to his death after receiving a layoff notice.

Investigators were talking to people who may have had contact with Huy Pham before his apparent suicide, Lt. Bryan Glass said Friday.

Pham, 27, plunged from the roof of the five-story Civic Center on Thursday about an hour after he was called in to work to receive the pink slip. His brother and others have said that he did not appear to be suicidal in recent weeks.

Retired city worker Mike Moran, 57, said he worked with Pham for more than four years and he never saw any signs of depression in his fellow building technician, who had been off work for three weeks with a broken ankle he suffered while training for his lifelong dream of climbing Mt. Everest, Moran said.

"He loved life. He loved his family. I don't get it," Moran said.

Pham was one of 213 city employees — nearly half the city's work force of 472 — who were to be notified of layoffs on Thursday. His death heightened the strain over the City Council's decision earlier this month to outsource 18 city services to other government or private agencies.

"We're trying to understand the circumstances that led to it," Glass said.

Pham also had received his contractor's license and had future plans of entering the building trade.

His city job "was just a stepping stone for him," Moran said. "He was preparing himself to move on."

Crisis counselors were brought in to help Pham's co-workers deal with their shock, and a makeshift shrine of candles and flowers appeared at the spot where he died.

Moran, who was among those at the shrine, said he could not imagine Pham's feelings but speculated that the loss of his job and poor prospects in private industry might have affected him.

"You know, it's bad times and construction is down and then you get your pink slip ... what's waiting for you, you know?" Moran asked.

Other cities have wrung concessions from their workers as they struggle with budget gaps and huge future costs for pensions. However, Costa Mesa, which currently spends about $15 million on retirement benefits, decided to outsource firefighting and some maintenance and clerical jobs in order to deal with a current $1.4 million budget deficit.

Some city workers accused the council of not even attempting to work with employees to bring down costs.

"Obviously, it's a charged atmosphere," Councilman Stephen Mensinger told the Register on Friday, calling Pham's death "heartbreaking."

Efforts by state and local governments to stop budget bleeding have sparked job fears among thousands of public workers.

School districts in California have issued at least 19,000 layoff notices to teachers and other employees, according to the California Teachers Association.

Cost-cutting efforts have sparked angry fights in several places, most notably in Wisconsin, where a judge on Friday temporarily blocked the state's new law that strips most public workers of nearly all their collective-bargaining rights.

The measure was approved last week only after a three-week stalemate during which Senate Democrats fled the state to prevent a vote and tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the measure.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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