SANTA ANA — Nine-year-old Corinne Segerstrom, granddaughter of a prominent farmer-developer whose family built South Coast Plaza, was crushed to death Tuesday after falling off a harvester in a family lima bean field, authorities said.
As members of the Segerstrom family gathered in the field to console one another, Santa Ana Police Sgt. Raul Luna said the girl had been riding with a relative on the farm equipment. He would not identify the family member driving the machine.
"She fell off and was run over by the harvester," Luna said. He added that police do not expect to cite farm operators for any safety violations. "It's just an accident," he said.
The victim was the daughter of Theodore Segerstrom, 46, who is active in the family's extensive business and agricultural interests. Her grandfather is Harold T. Segerstrom Jr., 65, who along with his cousin Henry T. Segerstrom, 70, turned the family's farming base into one of the area's most powerful businesses. In addition to South Coast Plaza, the family also developed much of the surrounding retail and office complex known as South Coast Metro.
But it was the vast agricultural holdings that helped the family stake its claim in business in the early 1900s, when it became the biggest independent producer of lima beans in the country.
The family today has four lima bean fields in Orange County, producing about 320 tons of beans each year. In a bow to tradition, it still maintains its fields with vintage tractors--a fleet that apparently includes the harvester that was involved in Tuesday's tragedy.
Harold and Theodore Segerstrom play a major role in managing the company's agricultural holdings, while Henry Segerstrom handles the partnership's retail and commercial endeavors.
The accident occurred in a corner of a bean field in the 2000 block of MacArthur Boulevard in Santa Ana, just blocks from South Coast Plaza.
Corinne Segerstrom was declared dead at the scene of the 6 p.m. mishap. Police said she lived in Irvine, but at the request of the family released no other information about her.
A farm worker who was in the field at the time of the accident said the girl's father was driving the tractor that pulled the machinery. He said Corinne Segerstrom and five field workers were riding behind him on the harvester as he worked the field.
Police would not identify the tractor driver, saying the family had asked that the name be withheld. All information that police released was cleared through relatives at the scene. The field worker, who asked not to be identified, said the father worked the field regularly and often operates the harvester. But the worker said it was the first time he had seen the girl in the field all summer.
The harvester does not have a safety belt, the worker said. He said one of the field hands saw her fall off and immediately sounded a horn. But the tractor driver was unable to stop in time, and Lt. Bob Chavez said the girl was run over by the harvester's wheels.
Renee Segerstrom, wife of Henry Segerstrom, said she and her husband were devastated by news of the accident.
"We learned that something had happened with the thresher," she said. "It hurts me beyond belief. . . . I think (Henry) is devastated."
"It's terrible, devastating," said Ruthann Moriarty, sister of Henry Segerstrom and a cousin of the victim. "It's like a dream. It can't be true. . . . She was a beautiful little girl."
Malcolm Ross, a spokesman for C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, said the field where the accident occurred had just been harvested. "That land has been in beans for many years, at least since the 1920s," he said.
Santa Ana Mayor Daniel H. Young said the field is the largest undeveloped property in the city. "I know they just cut a crop the other day," he said.
Don Dressler, president of insurance services for the Western Growers Assn., said agricultural mishaps "aren't any different or really more common than (accidents involving) any other type of equipment, such as automobiles.
"That's partly because there are certain restrictions about who can be near operating machinery and under what conditions. . . . (But) accidents involving children are very rare. The accidents usually involve a tractor taking off or turning over."
Times staff writers Ann Conway, Jeffrey A. Perlman and Chris Woodyard contributed to this report.