Autopsy affirms toxic gas deaths

Source says victims not wearing protective gear; DPS finds no foul play, considers case closed

The autopsy on the remains of the three workers who were killed while working inside a sewer well in San Antonio has corroborated police investigators’ initial findings that they died due to toxic gas exposure.

A source disclosed that Guam chief medical examiner Dr. Aurelio Espinola’s autopsy showed that the three victims all died of asphyxia due to hydrogen sulfide inhalation.

Acting chief prosecutor Matthew Baisley confirmed Espinola’s findings with Saipan Tribune yesterday. He did not elaborate.

Espinola did the autopsy at the Commonwealth Healthcare Center’s morgue last Saturday.

The victims, identified as Ricky Quijano, 47; Amid Tapon, 41; and Danilo Paglinawan, 53, all Filipinos, worked for USA Fanter Corp.

The source said that hydrogen sulfide is a build up from human waste.

The source said that drowning was not a factor as the workers were already dead even before falling into the water.

The workers were killed while doing repair work inside a 24-foot sewer lift station of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. at Pakpak Beach in San Antonio last July 7.

DPS said its preliminary findings show that the workers were exposed to high levels of hydrogen sulfide gas inside the well.

DPS said other factors include wastewater presence that was about 6 to 7 inches deep, which may have possibly caused the victims to drown.

The source said that DPS has concluded that it was an accidental death and that there was no foul play.

DPS considers its investigation closed.

The source disclosed that the workers were not wearing protective gear.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and CUC did their own investigations of the incident but the results have yet to be made public.

USA Fanter was subcontracted by CUC to perform rehabilitation work on the sewer.

The umbrella organization of Filipino groups in the CNMI, the United Filipino Organization, is currently leading a fund drive to benefit the victims’ families.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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