Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Jan. 26. I’m Justin Ray.
Trigger warning: This story discusses suicide.
A mother and her son died at Petco Park in September before a Padres game. The investigation into their deaths has caused a bitter dispute between an attorney and the San Diego Police Department.
Raquel Wilkins, 40, and her 2-year-old son, Denzel Browning-Wilkins, died after falling off a six-story concourse. The police department recently said in a release provided to The Times that the deaths were the result of Wilkins taking her own life.
However, attorney Dan Gilleon, who represents Wilkins’s father, mother and sisters, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he disputes the findings, claiming that the San Diego Police Department is trying to shield the city — which owns 70% of Petco Park — from liability in the deaths of the mother and son.
On Sept. 25 around 3:50 p.m., Wilkins and her son fell the equivalent of six stories to the sidewalk, the Union-Tribune reported. Although efforts were made to resuscitate them, neither had survived. They were pronounced dead at 4:11 p.m.
The pair had been at a dining area on the concourse level before the fall, according to a police release. The child’s father was also at the ballpark at the time, the Union-Tribune reported.
“Out of an abundance of caution,” police labeled the tragic event as “suspicious” at the time and launched a homicide investigation, according to the police release.
The Padres issued a statement the morning after the deaths saying the team was “deeply saddened by the loss of life at Petco Park last evening. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of those involved,” the Union-Tribune reported.
The investigation and reactions
The Police Department said in a Jan. 19 release that its “thorough and comprehensive” investigation included “dozens of interviews, reviewing of available video footage, and collecting background information to determine what led to the deaths.”
“In consultation with the San Diego County Medical Examiner, Raquel Wilkins’ death has been classified a suicide and Denzel Browning-Wilkins’ death has been classified a homicide,” the police said in the statement.
In September, before police ruled the incident a suicide and not an accident, Mayor Todd Gloria apologized after insinuating that mental health may have been a factor.
Gilleon told The Times in an emailed statement that Wilkins’ family contacted him in early October, “not for a wrongful death case, but because they were worried about the Mayor’s comments about Raquel.” He said he planned on filing a wrongful-death lawsuit over the case.
“I don’t think the SDPD is being cruel for the hell of it,” Gilleon says. “They’re doing it because they’re hiding something, and they think that if the truth comes out slowly and the full story takes time to tell, the people responsible will be better able to cement some good PR or to retire.”
The Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. The release states that: “The San Diego Police Department will not be making any further comment on the case. SDPD understands the public’s concern and interest in this tragedy that happened publicly in a venue where the community gathers. We would like to thank all those who came forward with information.”
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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Are ills of the Arctic hitting California? Hundreds of migratory seabirds wash ashore. “Sara Bogard halted her dog as the two began descending the cliff down to Manchester Beach, along the Mendocino coast. Below, scores of dead and dying birds littered the beach as far as she could see,” Susanne Rust writes. Fontana News Room
How an unremarkable alley-facing garage in West L.A. became a stylish ADU. “We thought it would be a good thing to improve housing supply as well as add to the value of our house and help us financially,” Justin Nasatir said about the accessory dwelling unit, or “granny flat,” he and Mara Grobins Nasatir purchased in 2017. Fontana News Room
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers reached an agreement Tuesday to again require employers to provide workers with up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave to recover from COVID-19 or care for a family member with the virus. The legislation, which lawmakers would likely fast-track to the governor in the coming weeks, would apply to all businesses with 26 or more employees. Fontana News Room
Nancy Pelosi will run for her House seat again. House Speaker Pelosi is seeking reelection to her San Francisco-area congressional seat, she said Tuesday, though she did not say whether she would seek to retain her position leading House Democrats. Pelosi’s announcement comes amid speculation on her political future as she reaches her self-imposed last year in the speakership. Fontana News Room
Does L.A. want a billionaire mayor? Rick Caruso is trying to find out. The billionaire developer has flirted with a mayoral run before. Caruso, 63, was born in Los Angeles to a businessman who founded Dollar Rent A Car. His name has become synonymous with the nostalgia-tinged spectacle of outdoor retail projects such as the Grove, Americana at Brand and Palisades Village. Caruso said Monday he has changed his political affiliation from no party preference to Democrat. This shift is the strongest sign yet of his seriousness about running. Fontana News Room
CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING
A 9-month-old baby overdosed on fentanyl on Friday in east Bakersfield, according to police. Just before 3 p.m. Jan. 21, authorities were called to a residence of a baby who was not breathing. The infant was transported to the hospital where the baby was determined to be suffering from a fentanyl overdose. The child was revived and in stable condition, and is in the custody of Child Protective Services, according to Bakersfield Police Department. Gabriela Cruz, 23, of Bakersfield was arrested on suspicion of felony child cruelty, possession of a controlled substance for sales and possession of narcotics paraphernalia. KGET
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
A man was sentenced to two years in federal prison for trying to illegally export at least $150,000 worth of succulents pulled from state parks in Northern California, officials said. Byungsu Kim, 46, was also ordered to pay $3,985 in restitution to the state of California to help cover the costs of replanting all the stolen plants, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a news release. Dudleya plants from coastal areas are particularly valuable in Asian countries, and smugglers are known to harvest wild, living Dudleya plants from the ground and export them to be sold on the black market abroad. KTLA
Jewish community attempts to rebuild after destructive synagogue fire. The Chabad House in San Jose erupted in flames last month and was vandalized a few days later. “A month after the catastrophic events unfolded at the Jewish place of worship, officials have still not determined the cause of the fire nor received any leads,” Maggie Angst writes. Although police told Mercury News the morning after the fire that their investigation had determined that the blaze was not a hate incident, that has done little to quell concerns from some members of the congregation. Mercury News
The California Department of Motor Vehicles is now going digital for some of its services. Customers can get renewal notices via email, instead of in the mail, and immediately renew their vehicle registration on the web. To sign up for paperless vehicle registration and driver’s license renewal notices, customers must sign in or create a secure online account at dmv.ca.gov, and then opt in. DMV
Micah Pietila-Wiggs, a student-athlete who first made headlines when he helped take the Eastlake team to the 2013 Little League World Series, died in a crash near the U.S.-Mexico border early Saturday morning, family members confirmed. The 21-year-old Chula Vista native was a fan favorite — with his easy grin and long, golden hair — when he played second base as a middle schooler. He continued to impress throughout high school and into college, both on and off the field, former coaches said. “Micah was one of the best kids ever,” said Dave Gallegos, baseball coach at Eastlake High School, Pietila-Wiggs’ alma mater. San Diego Union-Tribune
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Today’s California memory is from Mike Young:
When I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, I used to drive everywhere I could along the coast within the base, that is from San Clemente to Oceanside. An ironically beautiful and serene place considering it is located within a Marine Corps base, where all types of weapons training occurs from small arms to machine guns to artillery. But I wouldn’t change a thing about that place, except allow more selective photography for those scenes to be taken in at all times. And the smells — sometimes the sage brush from the Las Pulgas area fills about 30 miles of the atmosphere.
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)
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