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Family wants focus on woman's life, not death

Amid the uproar over Edith Rodriguez's fate at King-Harbor, relatives keep her memory alive.

June 17, 2007|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

In the 43 years before she died, Edith Isabel Rodriguez raised three children, volunteered in their classrooms, made their Halloween costumes and watched them grow up and have babies of their own.

She worked odd jobs as a housecleaner and a tamale vendor, struggled with drug addiction, had several run-ins with the law and lived at various relatives' and friends' homes.

But Rodriguez has received much more attention in death than in life.

Even though Rodriguez's family and friends acknowledge her problems, they are determined to show the world that she was a real person -- not just the woman who lay dying on the floor of the emergency room lobby at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital while staff ignored her.

"She was someone's mom, someone's sister, she was someone's grandma," said her sister, Carmen Rodriguez. "We don't want that to be forgotten."

Rodriguez's May 9 death from a perforated bowel has prompted a public outcry and investigations by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Department of Health Services.

A federal report released Friday concluded that six staff members, including a nurse and two nursing assistants, saw or walked past Rodriguez but did not help. Interviews with friends and relatives last week give a fuller picture of the life of the woman videotaped on hospital security cameras as she writhed on the floor for 45 minutes while a janitor cleaned around her.

Her children steadfastly defend their mother's dignity and say she didn't deserve to die the way she did.

"We want justice for our mom," said Christina, 24, who works at a pizza parlor. "We don't want this to happen to anyone else."

One of 13 children, Edith Rodriguez -- nicknamed Chavela -- was raised in Los Angeles by a single mother who ran a small bakery and market to support the family. Rodriguez was a teenager when she and her boyfriend had their first child, Edmundo. The couple, who eventually got married, also had two daughters, Christina and Kimberly.

Rodriguez split up with her husband when the children were young, and the family moved to Tehachapi, Edmundo said. They depended on child support and public assistance, her sister Carmen said, but Rodriguez also cleaned houses and sold lingerie.

Edmundo, 25, said his mother tried to teach them about money by helping him and his sisters sell school supplies outside their house and instructing them to save their earnings. She also showed them how to take care of their clothes and shoes so that they would last.

"We didn't have a lot," Edmundo said. "She explained that to us as kids."

At the same time, if a friend or neighbor needed help, Rodriguez would bring them food, he said.

She volunteered in their schools and participated in the PTA, and on weekends she took her children fishing and showed them how to work on cars, Edmundo said. She saved up to buy him his first car, a 1961 Ford Falcon, which he still has.

The problems started when he and his sisters were teenagers and their mother had trouble paying the bills. That's when the drug use began, Carmen said.

"She just started doing her own thing," said Edmundo, who recently left his job as a Ford service technician to move to Bakersfield, closer to his sisters.

Over the course of several years, Rodriguez was arrested several times for drug possession and battery, serving time in jail, according to records from the Kern County Superior Court. She also had one conviction for disturbing the peace in Los Angeles, court records show.

While Rodriguez was in jail, her children stayed with their father or their aunt.

In fall 2005, she was sent to state prison for seven months for drug possession, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"She started going downhill pretty fast," Carmen said.

Carmen, 53, said she and her siblings told Rodriguez repeatedly to stop using methamphetamine and get a job. Rodriguez would sober up for a while, work selling tamales or even doing construction, and then relapse. She sometimes failed to report to her parole or probation officer, Carmen said.

Rodriguez stayed with friends and relatives, including her son, but the drug use often caused conflicts, Carmen said. For a few months this year, Rodriguez and her boyfriend lived with his niece, Lupe Prado. Every few weeks, they had to leave for a while because Prado's landlord wouldn't allow the extra tenants.

"They didn't have anywhere to stay," Prado said. "So they stayed here."

Prado, who has seven children, said Rodriguez baby-sat for money to buy cigarettes and toiletries. She cleaned and helped out around the house. Rodriguez was outspoken and didn't hesitate to give her parenting advice, Prado said. "She would spoil them and she would show them manners," Prado said.

But Rodriguez also had a bad temper and fought often with her boyfriend, his niece said. Rodriguez threatened to leave him, but Prado said the couple stayed "together through good and bad times."

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