Woman's death probed by state

She was killed in a transformer vault at a Scientology film studio.

By Rich Saskal
Riverside Press-Enterprise

June 27, 2000

SAN JACINTO - State work-safety officials are investigating the electrocution of a Church of Scientology member at its film studio near San Jacinto.

The young woman, whose identity has not been released, died Sunday in an underground transformer vault, according to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

She apparently died instantly after contacting a 7,200-volt wire connecting two transformers in the 10-foot by 10-foot by 8-foot vault, the Sheriff's Department reported.

"The individual was very badly burned and visual identification was impossible," said Senior Deputy Robert Moquin.

She worked for Golden Era Productions, which produces education and training films for the Church of Scientology.

The general manager, Ken Hoden, said the woman, interested in helping animals, was concerned about the death of a squirrel in the vault a few weeks earlier, went to investigate and, apparently, fell on the wires.

California Division of Occupational Safety and Health plans to investigate a number of elements in the incident, said spokesman Dean Fryer.

"We need to look into such things as whether she was properly trained to enter such an area, as to whether there are employees that are properly trained, as to whether there are proper signs in place warning of high voltage," Fryer said.

"This is purely a tragic accident," Hoden said.

Moquin said the Sheriff's Department investigation is in the hands of the coroner's office, which is charged with confirming the victim's identification through dental records and investigating other possible causes of death.

An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday.

Scientology's skeptics raised questions about the death.

"You wouldn't be allowed to be wandering around out there," said Stacy Brooks, who described herself as having been a Scientologist for 15 years, including some time at Golden Era, before leaving in 1989. Brooks is president of the Lisa McPherson Trust, a Scientology watchdog group.

"These people watch every minute. It's just not feasible knowing how things worked out there that she was just wandering around taking care of baby squirrels," Brooks said.

Hoden questioned the motives of anyone questioning the accident.

"It was an accident. Accidents happen," he said. "It was investigated by the sheriff's office."