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Co-worker: Pham 'liked his job. This was his life'

City employees say the 29-year-old was committed to his work and was very skilled for his age.

March 18, 2011|By Joseph Serna and Alexandra Baird, joseph.serna@latimes.com, abaird.dailypilot@gmail.com
  • Officer Cristina Goodfellow of the Costa Mesa Police Department kneels beside a memorial for city maintenance worker Huy Pham at Costa Mesa City Hall on Friday. Pham, 29, jumped to his death from the roof of City Hall on Thursday.
Officer Cristina Goodfellow of the Costa Mesa Police… (KENT TREPTOW, Daily…)

COSTA MESA — His co-workers said from the time he punched in to the time he punched out, Huy Pham focused on one thing: doing his job, and doing it well.

"You could see in his work how much he appreciated his job," said Daniel Jojola, who worked alongside Pham, a Costa Mesa city maintenance worker. "He liked his job. This was his life."

Along with 208 other city employees, Pham, 29, was set to receive a layoff notice Thursday. The Fountain Valley man never collected the manila envelope containing a letter signifying that his job would be outsourced in six months to the day.

Instead, Pham, who had been training for a mountain climbing trip in the Himalayas, went to the roof of City Hall and jumped to his death.

Public Services Director Peter Naghavi had Pham's layoff notice with him when he went to the city maintenance offices on Placentia Avenue to hand them out to workers Thursday.

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But Pham wasn't there. At about 3:20 p.m., witnesses saw him leap from the eastern rooftop at City Hall, five stories up.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that on the same day, in the same hour notices were going out, he made his decision," Naghavi said Friday.

Pham's fellow city employees said they have been on an emotional roller coaster in the hours before and since his suicide.

Anxiety about the possible layoffs and not knowing whether others would replace them in their jobs — mixed in with anger toward the City Council and grief over the death of a friend and co-worker — have poured out.

Some employees flew into rage as City Council members arrived at the scene of Pham's death Thursday. One man had to be held back by co-workers, and another cursed at Chief Executive Tom Hatch in the City Hall lobby, witnesses said.

"I feel as if the council and their quick-acting decisions pushed [Pham] over the edge," Jojola said Friday as friends and co-workers gathered for a lunch next to the makeshift memorial for Pham at the spot where his body landed.

Noticeably absent from City Hall in the hours after Pham's death was Mayor Gary Monahan, who was working the St. Patrick's Day night shift at his bar, Skosh Monahan's, about 2 miles away on Newport Boulevard.

"We're in a family crisis here," said Helen Nenadal, president of the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. (CMCEA), which could bear the brunt of the layoffs.

"Yesterday [Thursday] we had former council members come and be part of that family, and the mayor chose not to," she added. "That says it all."

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