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O.C. Crisis Team Member, 24, Dies Suddenly in Elevator


SANTA ANA — An analyst for Salomon Bros., the county's financial adviser, collapsed and died Wednesday as he was riding an elevator back to his third-floor office at the Hall of Administration.

Barry Benge, 24, was pronounced dead at Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, county officials said. The cause of death was not known, and an autopsy was planned, officials said.

Benge, who received bachelor's and master's degrees in business administration at the University of Chicago, joined the county's financial crisis team within a week of its bankruptcy filing Dec. 6. He was one of four main Salomon Bros. employees working in Orange County.

"He was a great guy," said Chris Varelas of Salomon Bros. "He's been out here throughout the bankruptcy, from the beginning. We obviously selected him because he was the top in his class. He was a pleasure to work with.

"He was really a pleasure," Varelas repeated, shaking his head.

Eyewitnesses said Benge collapsed about 4:30 p.m. just as the doors of the elevator he was riding in opened at the third floor. Sheriff's Lt. Walt Fath, another sheriff's deputy and Charles Forrest of A.G. Edwards administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation until paramedics arrived, but they were unable to revive him, witnesses said.

"I don't know what to say. . . . I'm just devastated, just devastated," Board of Supervisors Chairman Gaddi H. Vasquez said later. "He was one of the early team members. Just a hard-charging, hard-working young man. Very bright--just a real genuine kind of guy."

County officials said Benge grew up in Miami and had lived in New York since he joined Salomon Bros. about a year ago. He is an only child and his family now lives in Oklahoma, according to county spokeswoman Lynne Fishel.

Benge had asthma as a child and was hospitalized two or three weeks ago with respiratory problems when a foreign object--perhaps a taco chip--blocked his breathing, Fishel said.

"This is where everything else becomes secondary," Vasquez said. "In the midst of the crisis, it causes you to pause and just remind yourself that we're all human beings, and we have to think of each other and pray for each other."

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