City officials on Thursday lauded the spirit of two Good Samaritans who were electrocuted when they rushed to the scene of a car crash that sheered off a fire hydrant and knocked over a light pole in Valley Village.
"Yesterday was a day of heartbreaking tragedy but it was also a day of inspiring heroism," Los Angeles City councilman Paul Krekorian said at a news conference.
The dangerous combination of electricity and water killed two women Wednesday night, prompting reminders to residents to call 911 immediately and to "always, always" assess the safety of a situation before running in.
The efforts of several Good Samaritans who tried to help the driver and the critically injured women were also recognized Thursday. Krekorian said their actions "remind us what makes this city so great."
One of the women who died was identified Thursday as Irma Zamora, 40, of Burbank.
"She died a hero. She showed us what a hero is," Zamora's sister said.
Officials said the other victim, also a woman, could not be identified until her family was notified. But neighbors in the residential area around the crash site said she was a 39-year-old woman, who lived in an apartment building right by the crash site.
Others who attempted to help the women were shocked when they tried to cross a pool of water from the hydrant that was in contact with downed power lines from the light pole, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Flowers and candles had been placed at the scene of the crash, where the light pole still sat behind yellow caution tape on Thursday morning.
The crash occurred at 8:25 p.m. Wednesday near the corner of Magnolia Boulevard and Ben Avenue after multiple residents said they heard screeching brakes and a loud collision.
The driver of a car traveling westbound on Magnolia attempted to make a right turn from the left lane and lost control of his car, the LAPD said.
The driver's white Chevrolet Traverse SUV ended up on the lawn of a residence. The vehicle also took out a stop sign, and video from the scene showed the sign and the light pole underneath the SUV.
LAPD Capt. Peter Whittingham said the young driver had been speeding. Valley Traffic Division Detective William Bustos, who was investigating Thursday, said neither alcohol nor drugs were factors in the crash.
The driver, identified only as a 19-year-old male, was also hospitalized but his condition was unknown, and LAPD on Thursday said it was not releasing information on him.
There appeared to be confusion about the number of victims. An LAPD press release said eight victims were shocked, in addition to the two who died. But Bustos said that four were injured, including the driver and a police officer who came into contact with the water.
The scene on Wednesday evening was chaotic and dramatic, with dozens of firefighters trying to aid the injured.
"I heard the skid of a car ... at least three seconds long, and then a very loud boom," witness James Pike said. "I run outside and across the street I see two women laying on the sidewalk. I see two or three young gentlemen keep trying to rescue them and pull them to safety and each time they would try to pull them they were getting shocked."
Initially, there was a pool of water around the vehicle, which was in darkness. Water was gushing two stories into the air from the sheered-off hydrant until authorities shut it off, along with power to the downed light pole.
Whittingham said that the first woman who was electrocuted had run out a residence to the scene.
The other woman was walking with her husband and ran ahead to the accident, getting shocked in front of her husband, who was seen kneeling on the sidewalk afterward.
Witnesses saw both women writhing on the ground, witnesses said. They died at the hospital, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Witnesses of the tragedy can seek counseling at 1 p.m. Saturday at Fire Station 60 near the intersection of Cahuenga and Chandler boulevards.
People who tried to help the two women who had been electrocuted were themselves repeatedly shocked, a witness said.
Five others were treated for minor injuries; one refused treatment, LAFD Assistant Chief Andy Fox said Wednesday.
"The water was electrified, though it's our understanding that the injuries of the would-rescurers occurred when they actually came into contact with the other patients," Fox said late Wednesday.
On Thursday, officials said the crash injuries served to remind do-gooders how best to respond when power lines are down.
"This is a tragic, tragic accident,'' LAFD spokesman Erik Scott said. "Here's a case where we have many people with good intentions trying to save people and two of them died as a result. This is also another reminder to people who want to help at the scene of an accident that they need to stay aware of their surroundings and if there is any question as to their safety, they should wait for rescuers to arrive.''
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power today on Thursday issued the following recommendations designed to avoid a recurrence of the tragedy:
- Never touch a downed or dangling wire or anyone or anything in contact with one. Assume a downed line is still energized. Report any downed power lines immediately by calling the LADWP at 1-800-DIAL-DWP. If you or someone else is in danger, call 911;
- Don't touch anyone in contact with a power source: You could be killed or seriously injured. Instead, turn off power at the control panel if possible, then call for help;
- If a power line falls on your car, stay in the car and wait for help. If standing water is present, stay in your car and wait for help. If you must get out, make sure you do not touch the metal parts of the car and the ground at the same time. The safest exit method is to open the door, stand on the door sill and jump free without touching the car;
- Stay away from metal fences, such as a chain link fence, as there may be a power line down and touching the fence somewhere beyond your sight;
- If there is damage to the connection from the power pole to your house, you should go to the electrical box and turn off the main switch or shut off the fuse switch. Again, always assume electric lines are live;
- In case of an electrical emergency, stay calm and think before you act. Don't become a victim while trying to help others. Call 911;
- If someone is shocked or not breathing, apply cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Then cover the victim with a blanket, keep their head low and get medical attention.
NOTE: An earlier version of this story and the NBC4 News at Noon on Thursday identified the second electrocution victim as Stacey Schreiber, based on statements by an employee of the property management firm that runs the building where Schreiber lived, next to the crash site. Because the coroner's office could not confirm Schreiber's identity Thursday, her name was removed from the story. Her identity was later confirmed by the coroner's office Friday morning.