A criminal probe of a devastating subway fire beneath the Hollywood Freeway will concentrate on possible worker safety violations, including allegations that the safety engineer overseeing the tunnel work was unqualified, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Tuesday.
The district attorney's investigation runs parallel to an arson investigation initiated by the Los Angeles Fire Department immediately after the fire began last Friday. The cause of the blaze has not been determined.
According to documents released this week, the district attorney's office received a complaint in March, 1989, alleging that the safety engineer for the subway contractor had falsified his resume to show that he was an experienced safety worker. The district attorney's office took no action because it is not a criminal violation to falsify a job resume, officials said.
However, Jack White, chief of investigations, said his office now is looking at the complaint as part of its investigation of any safety problems that could have contributed to the fire that gutted 750 feet of unfinished subway tunnel.
"We're investigating the incident for safety violations," White said.
Another complaint recently was filed with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. After one Cal/OSHA official dismissed the complaint as "frivolous," the Metro Rail safety engineer was allowed to keep his state certification.
State law requires tunnel construction contractors to employ a state-certified tunnel safety engineer who is given broad responsibility for assuring safe work practices.
Cal/OSHA released a copy Tuesday of the resume that Joe Allen Garner, 39, supplied when he applied in 1989 for state certification as a safety representative for the tunnel contractor, Tutor-Saliba-Perini. Garner passed written and oral tests, state officials said.
Cal/OSHA also is required to conduct a background check before certifying a safety engineer. But a spokesman said Tuesday that Garner's background may not have been verified.
The Times checked the references that Garner gave Cal/OSHA and found apparent inaccuracies in the only two previous safety-related mining jobs listed on his application.
In one instance, a former employer said Garner was a laborer--with no safety duties--at a Northern California gold mine. At another mine, the owner's wife said Garner was hired as a laborer after he came to fix their office copying machine.
Garner, a resident of Castaic, declined comment Tuesday night when asked about allegations that he had falsified his resume to get the safety job. Garner said he was under orders from superiors not to discuss anything about the tunnel project or himself. "I'm not to divulge any information to anybody for any reason," he said.
Safety officers for both the Southern California Rapid Transit District and for the private firm hired by the RTD to oversee construction on the Metro Rail subway said they had heard "rumors" that Garner's qualifications were being questioned. But both officers said they never fully investigated, leaving that to Cal/OSHA.
Cal/OSHA records indicate that Garner was certified as a tunnel safety representative in July, 1989, but his resume may not have been checked, Cal/OSHA spokesman Rick Rice said.
The agency recently received "some type of complaint" about Garner, Rice acknowledged.
Byron Ishkanian, head of the mining and tunnel division in Van Nuys, told The Times on Tuesday that he "thought the complaint was frivolous. I knew his work and I did not pull his certification."
Ishkanian said he knew Garner when both worked on Metro Rail. Ishkanian left Cal/OSHA and went to Metro Rail as its supervising engineer for construction safety in the fall of 1987, after Gov. George Deukmejian cut funding for Cal/OSHA, effectively gutting the industrial safety inspection program.
When funding was restored and Cal/OSHA resumed full staffing of its tunnel inspection division, Ishkanian returned to the state agency on May 1 of this year. His job now includes policing the Metro Rail construction project where he was formerly employed.
Ron Tutor, president of Tutor-Saliba Corp., initially told The Times that he had never heard of Garner.
Later, after checking with Garner's boss, Tutor said the man is "beyond reproach," adding: "I'm not going to dignify this call by further conversation."
Garner's boss, Eric Carlin, the Tutor-Saliba project manager on the Union Station tunnel where the fire occurred, said he hired Garner about two years ago. He said when Garner was elevated to safety engineer, the move had to be approved by the joint-venture that manages Metro Rail construction, Ralph M. Parsons Co., Dillingham Construction Co. and Deleuw, Cather & Co. (PDCD).