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City report: Pham, though hardworking, struggled with emotional problems

Personnel file indicates the 29-year-old received advice to get counseling, take precautions to get his 'life back on line.'

August 06, 2011|By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com

COSTA MESA — Huy Pham, the Costa Mesa city maintenance worker who committed suicide in March, struggled with emotional problems in the months before his death, according to his personnel file.

The records, which became public after he died, were provided to media outlets by city officials this week.

While nobody will know exactly why the 29-year-old from Fountain Valley leaped off the five stories of City Hall's roof, many have speculated that he was reacting to the City Council's outsourcing plans. These documents, which span the four years he worked for the city, provide a slightly fuller picture of the man and his mental health.

Pham comes across as a hardworking, thorough employee who last summer began to exhibit signs of stress. After a supervisor found him sleeping while on the clock, Pham told city officials he was overloaded with work, school and side jobs, as well as friend and family issues.

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"It just ended up being too much at one point," he told Public Services Director Peter Naghavi and Human Resources Administrator Lance Nakamoto during a September 2010 disciplinary hearing.

Pham comes off as distraught and tired in a recording of the 15-minute meeting.

Administrators recommended that Pham contact the counseling services offered through the city's health insurance, and take off work if necessary.

"Take any precaution that you have to take in order to get your life back on line, because you're too young to lose it," Naghavi said compassionately.

The Orange County Register, which filed a California Public Records Act request for the personnel files, first reported on their contents Thursday.

Outside of work, Pham wasn't exhibiting signs of stress, his brother John said Friday.

Pham was busy taking community college courses for a contracting license, and performing side jobs for relatives and other city employees, but "he never complained about it," John said.

After being disciplined for sleeping, Pham told his family about an issue at work, but John said "it didn't seem like it was anything too serious."

The one time John remembers Pham complaining about work was when he heard about pending citywide layoffs.

"That was the only thing that he was stressed about," John said.

Orange County Employees Assn. spokeswoman Jennifer Muir said the release of the personnel records were "just a sad attempt to diminish his memory."

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