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Letters from the editor: Tragedy at 77 Fair Drive

March 18, 2011|By John Canalis
(Alex Baird )

I am not sure why I expected to find answers Thursday evening at Costa Mesa City Hall, but I felt compelled to visit 77 Fair Drive after a city worker expecting a pink slip leaped from the rooftop and died.

I wasn't the only one searching. Plenty of people were there, pulled in by tragedy.

I didn't find an explanation — only grief. And the grieving.

Normally not one to shoegaze, I couldn't bring myself to look up at the roof five stories up. It would have felt like prying.

One man, dressed in blue work clothes, hurried by me. It was dark, but I could see his red, puffy eyes filled with tears.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece consoled employees. She led prayers. She listened to constituents. Two of her council colleagues, Steve Mensinger and Jim Righeimer, had visited earlier in the day.

School board Trustee Katrina Foley, only a few months removed from her time on the City Council, brought food donated by the Newport Rib Co.

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City employees hugged, their actions illuminated by the spotlight of a news camera. News photographers snapped pictures.

Daisies, mums and lilies filled coffee cans that lined the front steps of City Hall. Devotional candles burned in holders decorated with images of peaceful saints.

A hand-written note urged the victim, Huy Pham, to rest in peace. It said he would be missed.

A worker came by and placed yellow cones around the makeshift memorial, protecting it from the hustle and bustle that would follow when City Hall reopened.

But mostly it was quiet that St. Patrick's Day evening, on what is normally a loud, raucous night in Newport-Mesa. No one I spoke with felt like partying.

As a journalist, I've covered my fair share of suicides. The common denominator is disbelief. This time around was no different.

Folks wanted answers, but there were none. They wanted to hold someone, some entity, some political ideology, responsible for the death of a young man.

I'd rather see Costa Mesa come together to solve its problems. If this death is a sign, let it be one that it's time to go back to the table and talk about the direction in which the city is headed.

Because right now only the victim knows why he made the decision to die.

We can only speculate.

Yes, the victim was about to receive a pink slip with a layoff date six months in the future. That's bad news — some of the worst.

But Pham was 29. Those who knew him said he was talented, good at construction, good at fixing things. They called him loyal. He looked so happy in pictures. There were more opportunities to be had for a guy like that.

Maybe he just didn't realize it.

Though pink slips weigh so much more than the paper on which they are printed, they can be retracted.

Death cannot be.

JOHN CANALIS is editor of the Daily Pilot, Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent. He can be reached at (714) 966-4607 and john.canalis@latimes.com.

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