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Report Blames Death on Christo Umbrella

November 15, 1991|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Kern County coroner's office concluded Thursday that a Camarillo woman was killed because she was hit by a 488-pound umbrella erected in the Tejon Pass by artist Christo.

Christo's attorney has maintained since the Oct. 26 death that there was no evidence that the victim, Lori Rae Keevil-Mathews, 33, had been hit by the umbrella when it blew loose in a windstorm. He speculated that she could have fallen at the same time that the umbrella broke loose.

However, the coroner's office dismissed that possibility.

"We are not talking about a trip-and-fall injury here," said James Malouf, the coroner's chief investigator. "That just could not have caused the injuries she suffered. There would have had to have been an outside force."

The autopsy report on Keevil-Mathews--who was visiting the environmental artwork when a sudden storm toppled one of the 19-foot-tall umbrellas--was released last week. Malouf said Thursday that the autopsy confirms police reports that the umbrella struck Keevil-Mathews in the back.

Christo's lawyer, Scott Hodes of Chicago, continued to maintain Thursday that there was still no clear evidence that the umbrella, which was one of 1,760 in the 19-mile-long project, actually hit Keevil-Mathews. "We have not spoken, in our investigation, to anyone who actually saw the umbrella strike Mrs. Mathews and push her into the rocks," he said.

Hodes speculated that high winds could have caused Keevil-Mathews to fall against the rocks, causing the injuries. "Some of the evidence we have is that the wind was blowing at 35, 40 m.p.h. and that kind of wind can really push you," he said.

Hodes had not, however, spoken to Keevil-Mathews' husband, Michael, who told deputies that he saw the umbrella "hit Lori on her back and push her about 20 feet toward the side of the mountain," according to a Kern County Sheriff's Department report.

Malouf said a wind-caused fall could not account for Keevil-Mathews' injuries, which included a broken back, multiple fractures of the skull, numerous broken bones in her face and contusions of the brain.

"The wind just could not have done it," he said.

Hodes said he had been contacted by a lawyer for the Mathews family but would not say what they talked about or if more talks were planned.

Michael Mathews could not be reached for comment.

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