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State considering investigation into fall by 'Hunky Santa' aerialist [Updated]

November 30, 2009 |  3:00 pm

State workplace safety investigators are considering opening a formal  investigation into a weekend  incident in which an aerialist was injured during a performance of "Hunky Santa and the Candy Cane Girls" at the Beverly Center mall, a state official said today.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health is determining whether it has jurisdiction in the case, a decision that could turn on whether the injured worker was an employee or contract worker as well as whether the performance was regulated by local ordinances, said Dean Fryer, the spokesman for the agency.

If it is determined to be a state issue, Fryer said the agency would examine whether appropriate safety measures were used.

[Updated, 5:15 p.m.: Cal-OSHA officials said late today that they will proceed with an investigation into the incident. Spokesman Dean Fryer said the agency determined that it had jurisdiction because "this is not an independent contractor situation."]

The show, which began Friday as a holiday promotion to boost sales, features aerial performers wearing sparkly red outfits, suspended in the air inside the mall.

The 26-year-old woman slipped while hanging upside down from a solid metal hoop suspended from the ceiling during the Saturday evening finale, said Ray Pierce, owner of Hollywood Aerial Arts, the firm staging the performance.

The woman managed to turn herself right side up before falling into a video projection cube and injuring her wrist and pelvis. She was not wearing a harness, and there were no nets to break her fall, Pierce said.

Susan Vance, marketing and sponsorship director for the mall, called the fall an "isolated incident" and "human error."

The woman fell as hundreds of shoppers looked on. The high-flying maneuvers made some onlookers nervous enough to avert their eyes.

Police estimate that the aerialist fell 30 to 40 feet.

-- Andrew Blankstein