SYLMAR — Lelys Campos and her sister worked hard to make their home a place where stray and sick dogs could heal their wounds and feel at home.
But their good deed turned ugly late Tuesday afternoon, when 160 pounds of dog food fell on Campos' sister, 60-year-old Melany Paula Campos, apparently crushing her to death.
Melany Campos had been trapped beneath four 40-pound bags of food for hours before Lelys, a physician with a general practice in Sun Valley, found the body about 8:30 p.m. "My worst thought then was that she had a fracture, but then I saw that she might be dead," she said.
The sound of the dogs barking unusually loudly and continuously had alerted neighbors that something might be wrong, they told Lelys Campos when she arrived home.
Lelys Campos, who was hoping to open a rescue and recovery center for dogs, said her sister fed, took care of and adored the animals housed at the two-acre farm.
The dog food was stacked high up on a shelf. The sisters knew it was dangerous to keep the bags so high, Lelys Campos said, but had agreed to use caution and refrain from trying to move them without help.
"My sister knew that she wasn't supposed to touch the bags because they were stacked so high," Lelys Campos said. "But maybe she was trying to reach something or maybe cleaning up. I am still unsure."
She immediately tried to resuscitate her sister after discovering her. The force of the falling bags might have been made more deadly because of Melany Campos' small frame, speculated Lelys Campos, who said her sister was just five feet tall and 140 pounds.
Though coroner spokesman Scott Carrier said he believes the death was due to suffocation, his office won't make an official ruling until the body has been examined thoroughly. Carrier said examiners have to make sure the woman didn't suffer a heart attack or slip and fall and then died of head injuries.
"It's kind of a weird case," Carrier said. "It could be a multitude of things. That's why we have to do a series of tests."
After the death, animal regulation officials checked the home to see if the animals were being properly cared for. Peter Persic, a spokesman for animal regulations, confirmed that the dogs were being cared for adequately.
Lelys Campos said she had been turned down for a permit to build a kennel at the site, but had never received any citations about health conditions at her home.
But even if the sisters' dream of operating a shelter is one day realized, Lelys Campos said, it won't be the same without her older sibling.
"I wish God would have taken me instead of her."