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PG&E sued in Santa Rosa woman’s fire death

Tamara Latrice Thomas (COURTESY PHOTO)

PAUL PAYNE,

The brother of a paraplegic woman who was killed when the Tubbs fire destroyed her assisted living center in Santa Rosa sued PG&E Thursday in what appears to be the first wrongful death claim connected to the recent wildfires.

Tamara Latrice Thomas, 47, was burned to death Oct. 9 inside the Crestview Court Residential Care Home on Crestview Court in the city’s hard-hit Coffey Park neighborhood. Officials have not yet publicly identified her as one of the 23 people known to have died in fires across Sonoma County that burned about 100,000 acres and leveled almost 4,000 homes.

Like other litigants, Thomas’ brother, Torrey Cortez Thomas, claims PG&E is responsible for the fire because it failed to maintain electrical power lines that could have been knocked to the parched ground in high winds.

The suit, filed in Sonoma County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress.

“This was a tragedy,” said Thomas’ attorney, John Cox of Oakland, who sued PG&E earlier this year in an ongoing damages claim by the Valero refinery. “From what we’re hearing, this could have been avoided.”

A PG&E spokesman said Wednesday the company would not speculate on the cause of about 10 fires that broke out Oct. 8 in Napa and Sonoma counties.

The most destructive, the Tubbs fire, burned from Calistoga to Santa Rosa, flattening neighborhoods in Fountaingrove, Larkfield-Wikiup and Coffey Park in west Santa Rosa. Cal Fire is investigating.

State regulators this week released reports from PG&E that document at least 20 cases of toppled trees and downed power lines that same night in close proximity to the blazes.

Speculation that investigators will find the fallen power lines that caused the fires has fueled dozens of lawsuits from people who lost their homes or were seriously injured.

A Coffey Park couple whose house was reduced to ashes was the first to sue on Oct. 17. Since then, more than 100 people have filed about 10 individual legal claims in San Francisco and Sonoma County courts.

The Thomas suit is the first involving someone who died.

Tamara Thomas, a San Francisco native, was paralyzed by a medical condition about 10 years ago and divided her time between her hometown and the Santa Rosa board-and-care facility in the 1300 block of Crestview Court.

When the fire struck, she was unable to evacuate and was believed to have been killed in her second-floor bedroom. Facility officials notified Torrey Thomas of his sister’s death, another attorney in the case said.

She was burned beyond recognition and her remains were expected to be positively identified by a DNA comparison to her brother. A sheriff’s spokesman said Thursday that identification has not been completed.

The suit alleges negligence and malice, saying PG&E has failed to change its practices despite past incidents such as the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion, which killed eight people and led to a $1.6 billion fine.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.