YMCA San Diego fined for 2015 chlorine spill

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The YMCA of San Diego County was fined $17,000 Friday and ordered to abide by numerous probation conditions for a chlorine spill that sickened 79 elementary students and eight adults in Santee in 2015.

The incident occurred after a toxic plume of chlorine gas drifted towards Rio Seco Elementary School from the Cameron Family YMCA at 10123 Riverwalk Drive on Oct. 20, 2015.

The YMCA of San Diego County was fined $17,000 Friday and ordered to abide by numerous probation conditions for a chlorine spill that sickened 79 elementary students and eight adults in Santee in 2015.

The incident occurred after a toxic plume of chlorine gas drifted towards Rio Seco Elementary School from the Cameron Family YMCA at 10123 Riverwalk Drive on Oct. 20, 2015.

Eight adults and 79 students reported burning eyes and skin, and nausea. They complained of a strong bleach-like odor in the area. The students went to a hospital in a school bus, but they were treated in the hospital parking lot.

Also sentenced Oct. 20 to three years probation was Lee Joseph Ladley, 64, of Lakeside, who was the YMCA Facilities Director at the time. Ladley now is the director of the YMCA in Spring Valley. 

A tube that carried chlorine from a storage tank to a swimming pool broke and came into contact with another acidic chemical. A YMCA worker discovered the spill, which also went into a storm drain, but didn’t immediately alert anyone, said the prosecutor.

The YMCA, as a non-profit corporation, pleaded guilty to four felony counts and one misdemeanor that involved a hazardous waste spill that occurred two years ago that also went into a storm drain.

The Board of Directors for the countywide YMCA hired former District Attorney Paul Pfingst who represented them Friday. Approximately seven directors and employees were in the audience when San Diego Superior Court Judge Polly Shamoon placed the YMCA on two years probation.

The terms of probation affect all YMCA facilities in the county. The judge ordered all YMCA facilities to allow unannounced inspections by the county Department of Environmental Health and to improve its procedures for handling hazardous materials.

Pfingst filed documents noting the YMCA has since paid $705,053 in facility improvements such as new chemical pumps, chemical monitoring systems, berms surrounding chemical storage areas, and remodeling pump room doors.

“The YMCA is changing its entire culture and organization to try to respond to provide better aquatic safety inside the pool,” said Pfingst to the judge.

“These people,” said Pfingst, gesturing to the audience, “have worked tirelessly to put these changes in effect.”

Ladley was fined $6,150, and given credit for one day in jail for a previous booking when he and the YMCA were first charged on Oct. 19, 2016 by the District Attorney’s office.

Pfingst informed the judge the YMCA has already paid $11,482 in medical costs for the victims, and $37,416 in two other agencies’ expenses in the incident. Shamoon ordered them to pay $321 in medical costs for two adults.

The judge granted the motion by Pfingst and Ladley’s attorney, Michael Berg, to reduce all the felony convictions to misdemeanors.

“There has been great progress made,” said Shamoon.

Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth McClutchey objected to the charges being reduced, saying, “The YMCA has not done what they need to do.”

“They were still having violations a month, 1 1/2 months, two months after this horrific event,” said McClutchey. “It didn’t open their eyes well enough.”

Sharon Preece, an environmental protection expert, testified she inspected 11 YMCA facilities in the county and found violations at all of them. She said there were six employee-training violations.

Preece said they had taken steps to improve the facilities, but they have not put an overall plan into practice.

McClutchey said a YMCA employee discovered the chlorine spill and tried to contain it without informing others of the problem until later. Pfingst said the YMCA has since conducted regular hazardous materials training for employees.

Shamoon said she would review the progress of the YMCA on March 7, 2018.

Attorneys said there are lawsuits pending. The San Diego County Air Pollution Control District is reviewing regulatory action and they could seek a $500,000 fine.

Spring Valley man pleads guilty to voluntary manslaughter charges

Alaeante Eason, 27, of Spring Valley, has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Xusha Brown, Jr., 22, in 2013 in La Mesa.

Eason also admitted he was involved in promoting a criminal street gang in the shooting. He also pleaded guilty to pandering in encouraging someone to become a prostitute.

Eason faces between 4-16 years in prison, according to court records. San Diego Superior Court Judge Michael Smyth set sentencing for Feb. 13, 2018.

A preliminary hearing involving the Brown murder went into its third week against Anthony Frank, 26, and Donte Jerome Haddock, 26. Frank is alleged to have fired the shots into a car on Interstate 8 and Brown was shot in the head on May 5, 2013.

Frank and Haddock are also accused of fatally shooting Darris Walker, on April 30, 2011, also in La Mesa. The hearing was expected to conclude this week. Frank and Haddock have pleaded not guilty and remain in jail. Eason is also in jail.

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