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A homeless woman, apparently trying to retrieve items from a clothing donation box in north Petaluma on Wednesday, got stuck halfway into the container and died, Petaluma police said.

Authorities identified her as Kaily Land, 30, and said she has no known address but frequently was seen in the city and around the area of the donation box.

Police were called about 6:40 a.m. to where the large green container was sitting outside the Steel Bear Deli & Country Store on Old Redwood Highway, between McDowell Boulevard and Highway 101. Officers found half of Land’s body, clad in jeans and boots, dangling outside the container while her torso still was inside. A flashlight, still turned on, was discovered at the bottom, suggesting she had been searching for items inside the box.

“It looks like at some point, the lady tried to climb in there,” Petaluma police Sgt. Paul Gilman said. “She got pinched.”

After pulling her out, officers found a mark on her neck, showing how she likely died, Petaluma police Lt. Tim Lyons said.

“The lid of the box was pushed up against her neck, which may have caused her to suffocate. But we won’t know the exact cause of death until the autopsy,” Lyons said. “It definitely appeared her body got trapped inside and cut her in the neck and cut off her air supply.”

The opening in which Land became stuck is for people to put things into but is not designed in a way that allows items to be removed, Gilman said.

Steel Bear Deli owner Andy Dusanjh said the woman was a frequent customer of the store, and his employees knew her face, but not her name.

“I personally have seen her a bunch of times, and she picked through our garbage for cans and stuff like that,” Dusanjh said.

The security camera outside his store caught an image of Land walking past at 4:08 a.m. Wednesday, but he said the donation box was outside the view of his camera.

Deli employee Luis Cendejas said a customer told him early in the morning someone was at the donation box and appeared to be sorting through items. Minutes later, he said a Red Bull deliveryman came into the deli and said there was someone at the box who wasn’t moving.

The deliveryman called 911, Cendejas said, while he went outside to look.

“I was scared. She was not moving,” Cendejas said, after seeing Land’s body partially hanging outside the container.

Dusanjh said the collection box has been on his property for 10 or 11 years. He said the nonprofit that brought it was called Campus California at the time. The people with the nonprofit told him the clothes collected would be donated to Africa, and so he agreed to accept the container with no financial agreement.

He said Wednesday he’s had no contact with the nonprofit since receiving the container, and never has seen anyone from the organization collecting the donated clothing.

“They must come at odd hours to collect the clothes, because I’ve never seen them,” he said.

Dusanjh said the box was frequently full, though, so people left clothing and shoes on the street next to it, and people often would come by to rummage for clothing they could take.

The nonprofit that owns and maintains the container now is called Recycle for Change. The Richmond-based organization collects clothing at collection boxes throughout California in an effort to reduce environmental pollution, according to its website. The nonprofit reported earning more than $4 million in revenue on a 2018 charity registration renewal fee report submitted to the California Attorney General’s Office, which regulates nonprofits.

In a short statement Wednesday, Recycle for Change officials expressed regret about the woman’s death and said they’re cooperating with the Petaluma Police Department’s investigation.

“We have been working diligently with the City of Petaluma Police Department,” the statement said. “Our deepest condolences go out to this individual’s family and friends,”

The statement said the organization has been “utilizing donation bins for 18 years, and they have a strong safety record.”

A Recycle for Change representative reached by phone Wednesday declined to answer questions about its Petaluma container where Land’s death occurred.

Lt. Lyons said Petaluma police aren’t aware of previous deaths involving donation containers in the city, but they are planning to check if they present a potential hazard. He said the police department has received complaints about people leaving clothing around donation boxes and making “a big mess.”

It wasn’t clear Wednesday how many of the boxes are sitting in Petaluma or elsewhere in Sonoma County and if others are owned by Recycle for Change.

Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum said he also was unaware of any similar fatalities anywhere in the county.

However, two similar deaths occurred last year in San Diego and Los Angeles. And there has been a string of similar deaths in the Canadian province of British Columbia. At least three people died in donation boxes there belonging to different companies in the last four years, generating controversy over the safety of the boxes, according to Canadian press reports.

The Sonoma County coroner will conduct an autopsy on Land’s body to verify the woman’s injuries were consistent with how it appeared she died, Petaluma police Sgt. Gilman said.

“It’s tragic and sad,” Gilman said. “We don’t ever want to see something like this happen, especially to someone as young as she was.”

You can reach Staff Writers Andrew Beale at 707-521-5205 or andrew.beale@pressdemocrat.com, Nashelly Chavez at 707‑521‑5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com and Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.

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