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Ron Olitsky, 64; Led Nonprofit Devoted to Digging-Project Safety

November 06, 2005|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Ron Olitsky, president of Underground Service Alert of Southern California, which helps construction workers and others avoid hitting water pipes, electrical lines and cables when they dig into the ground, has died. He was 64.

Olitsky died Oct. 3 at his home in Fullerton of a brain aneurysm, according to Ann Diamond, vice president of the nonprofit organization.

He joined the group, which is commonly known as DigAlert, in 1980, four years after it was founded in response to a deadly construction accident in Culver City. Workers there hit a petroleum line, and the resulting explosion killed nine people.

Along with his staff, Olitsky enlisted Southern California's gas and utility companies and similar businesses as members, which are alerted whenever new construction is beginning in areas where there are underground lines.

During his tenure, Olitsky expanded the scope of DigAlert, encouraging construction workers, contractors, landscapers, swimming pool companies, homeowners and others to call the organization before they start to dig. The DigAlert staff then contacts member businesses that might have underground lines in the area, and the businesses send workers to the site to mark off the ground where appropriate.

"We're just trying to convince people that a phone call to us can save them a lot of trouble," Olitsky told the Los Angeles Times in 1997.

The procedure became mandatory under state law passed in 1986 after a construction crew hit an underground high-voltage transmission line in Glendale, resulting in a death and a serious injury. Under the law, which was implemented in 1987, anyone planning to dig into the earth must contact a regional notification center at least two business days before beginning the work. DigAlert is the center that serves all eight Southern California counties plus Inyo County.

"We want them to call if they're moving a teaspoon of dirt," Diamond said Friday. "When in doubt, call us."

Caller volume to DigAlert is now about 3,000 queries a day, she said.

Born in Chicago, Olitsky came to Los Angeles with his parents as a teenager and graduated from Fairfax High School in 1959. After attending Los Angeles City College and serving in the Army, he graduated from what is now Cal State L.A.

He worked as a journalist and in retail before joining the Underground Service Alert.

He is survived by his wife, Fern Thompson; two sons, Damon and Derick, who live in the Sacramento area; and three grandchildren.

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