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Costa Mesa employee's suicide investigated

March 18, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
It was a somber day at Costa Mesa City Hall Friday at a memorial to Huy Pham, 29, who took his own life.

"It's just very tragic. I'm at a loss for words," said Pham's coworker, Manuel Villa.

Pham was a city maintenance worker for more than four years and helped support his family and took care of his sick mother.

"His mom and his family were the biggest concern," said Villa. "Everything he did was for his family."

Pham was one of more than 200 city workers called in Thursday to receive layoff notices. The Costa Mesa City Council recently voted to outsource 18 city services, including firefighting and maintenance, to deal with a $15-million budget gap in the next fiscal year.

Police are still investigating why Pham jumped to his death, but some suspect it's related to the city council's drastic measures.

"In my heart I know that that noticing process was conducted by our department heads and by our key management staff with care, with detail and with compassion," said Costa Mesa Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch.

Adding tension to the situation was the mayor's conduct: Gary Monahan was seen celebrating St. Patrick's Day at his bar last night. A photo was taken by the general manager of the Orange County Employees Association 90 minutes after Pham's suicide, according to the GM.

While city workers comforted each other, the mayor stayed away, only showing up at City Hall late Friday afternoon.

"It's a tragic time in the history of Costa Mesa," said Monahan.

He was repeatedly questioned about his absence during this time of crisis. Monahan had no comment.

Instead, Monahan issued a statement insisting the union took advantage of the situation before he was informed of Pham's suicide.

"Had I known what transpired, I never would have agreed to pose for photos or engage in any revelry," said the mayor in the statement. "After learning of the volatility of the situation, I realized that my presence could further inflame and escalate the situation, and decided not to visit City Hall."

"I think it's unfortunate. I think when you're in a leadership position, even though it's tough to come here today, I'm sure, to come out, pay your respects," said former city councilwoman Katrina Foley.

On Monday, city workers will meet at City Hall to hold a moment of silence at 3:17 p.m., the time that Pham took his own life.