March 10, 2005
The San Diego Union-Tribune (California)
Fault is disputed in death, gassing
Woman was inside a tented building
By Kristen Green
The boyfriend of a woman who died after being exposed to toxic
fumes believes she wasn't evacuated from the couple's North Park
condominium before it was fumigated for termites.
But the president of her condominium association and the fumigation
company owner say they checked each unit to make sure the building
was empty before it was tented Monday morning. They believe Linda
Williams, 37, entered the Ohio Street complex after it had been
filled with the fumigant, Vikane gas.
Police say they have not determined whether Williams was in the
condominium building during the fumigation or returned after it
had been tented and the "Danger!" signs posted.
An employee of D&S Fumigation had returned to the 30-unit
complex around 2 p.m. to check toxicity levels around the building
when he heard someone screaming for help and noticed a rustling
inside the tent. The employee found Williams and pulled her out,
D&S owner Dawn Charrette said.
Williams, the mother of five children,
died later that day at a San Diego hospital.
"At this point it appears to be more accidental than intentional
or negligent," said San Diego police homicide Lt. Mike Hurley.
Williams' death is also being investigated by the state Structural
Pest Control Board and the county Department of Agriculture, Weights
and Measures, which has a pesticide regulatory program.
State officials said it was apparently the third such death in
The county medical examiner said it will take weeks to conclude
the autopsy because the office will wait for toxicity reports,
which may provide evidence about how long Williams was exposed
to the fumes.
Her boyfriend, Damien Peters, said yesterday that Williams had
made plans to be picked up by her brother before Monday's 9 a.m.
deadline to evacuate. Peters was staying in Alpine at his grandmother's
house with the couple's 9-month-old son.
Peters said he doesn't know if Williams and her brother ever
connected, and he hasn't talked to him yet. Peters said he tried
calling his girlfriend repeatedly that morning. She didn't answer
He said she was not suicidal, but he admitted that the couple
had been having financial problems. He also said she had been
diagnosed with Graves' disease, an autoimmune disease which she
had not been treating.
He said Williams was a sound sleeper, and because of the baby,
she had not been getting much rest. He said it's possible she
just slept through the commotion.
"I think the fumigation company screwed up," he said.
"I don't think they checked every condo thoroughly."
He doesn't think she went back inside after the fumigation began.
"She was in there the whole time," he said. "I
would stake my life on it."
Charrette, the company owner, said she personally checked Williams
and Peters' unit, along with four other people. She said she is
positive Williams was not there.
"There's absolutely no chance of it," she said.
The company uses a warning agent, chloropicrin, before it releases
the toxic gas. It has a sharp odor and is irritating to the eyes,
nose and throat.
Erik Wiman, president of the Mission Gardens homeowners association,
said he walked through every condo with the fumigation company,
looking under furniture and in closets and showers to make sure
no one was in the building.
He said he distinctly remembers checking Williams' unit.
Wiman and Charrette believe Williams crawled under the tent,
which had been secured with bags filled with sand or water, and
into the ground-level unit she shared with Peters. Wiman said
the sand bags on the southern side of the property, where Williams'
condominium is located, were out of place.
Wiman said he was the last resident to exit the building after
the walk-through with the fumigation company employee. He said
he didn't leave the property until 12:30 p.m., when the fumigation
"Everything was done by the books," he said.
Wiman, who is not paid for the position, said repeatedly he believes
the investigations will find that the homeowners association and
the fumigation company were not at fault.
Yesterday, residents gathered outside the condo building, waiting
to be allowed back in. Most had not heard about Williams' death,
and talked in small groups as they heard the news.
They said they had known about the fumigation for weeks and had
all been required to sign consent forms.
Union-Tribune research librarian Merrie Monteagudo contributed
to this report.
• Kristen Green: (619) 542-4576; firstname.lastname@example.org
from FAN: See articles of March
9 and March
Photo of Linda Williams, age 37, who died after the building she
lived in was fumigated.