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Sloppy search blamed for failure to find body in Pasadena fire

November 30, 2011 | 12:46 pm

Pasadena body
Sloppy search efforts and poor communication were to blame for the Pasadena Fire Department's failure to find a woman's body in a burned-out garage in July, according to a highly critical city report.

Firefighters doused the July 31 blaze in the garage and laundry room of a home at 36 S. San Marino Ave., but an insurance investigator visiting the site two days later was the first to find the remains of Yolanda Marie Sapetto, believed to be a transient.

At the time, then-Pasadena Fire Chief Dennis Downs said darkness and smoky conditions during the early-morning blaze obscured Sapetto’s body.

Firefighters put out the fire around 2:30 a.m., then returned later that morning when a resident reported the scene was still smoldering –- again failing to find Sapetto’s body.

A Pasadena law firm hired by the city to review the department’s actions determined that firefighters ignored policy by failing to fully search the laundry room, failing to call an investigator to determine the cause of the blaze and inappropriately spraying foam in the area where the debris-covered body was later discovered.

“Overall there was a lack of communication between command personnel,” the report stated.

The letter calls for the city to reinforce training on proper use of foam and post-fire searches to secure property, and suggests the city institute a “shift fire investigator” program to make investigators more readily available.


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-- Adolfo Flores

Photo: Body is removed from the Pasadena home by members of the Los Angeles County coroner's office. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times