SOLANA BEACH — Andrea Alvarado-Hernandez, 55, received a call on Wednesday, Aug. 1 from the Coastal Fellowship Church located in Solana Beach’s La Colonia de Eden Gardens Neighborhood.
There had been an accident involving her brother.
Moises Hernandez Sr., a resident of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, had been trimming a thick pine tree on the outskirts of the church property slightly past noon when his hand-held metal tool came in contact with a San Diego Gas & Electric wire, hitting Hernandez with a fatal shock of 12,000-volts.
For the past 10 years, Hernandez Sr., 59, managed his own tree-trimming and landscaping company and was a frequent volunteer in the community, regularly maintaining the dozens of trees located on the church grounds. Hernandez Sr. was also a devoted father, uncle and brother.
“I never thought something like this could happen,” Alvarado-Hernandez said.
According to a copy of the police report obtained by The Coast News, the church’s caretaker called 911 after hearing a “loud buzzing” noise. The Solana Beach Fire Department arrived on the scene shortly after receiving the call.
Witnesses and first responders discovered Hernandez Sr. suspended in the tree and unresponsive. Paramedics immediately contacted SDG&E to cut power to the lines in order to free Hernandez from the tree. The branches were “very close to if not touching” the power lines, according to a report by San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Arvanitis, who arrived at the scene two hours after the initial call.
Alvarado-Hernandez rushed to the scene and was met with the sight of half a dozen ambulances on the familiar church lot. At that point, she was informed that her brother could not be moved until SDG&E arrived.
Nearly three hours after Hernandez Sr. was electrocuted, between 10 and 15 SDG&E trucks arrived at the church, according to Alvarado-Hernandez’s daughter, Karina Moya, 31, who was present at the scene.
SDG&E employees were then able to cut power to the lines running through the tree. A Solana Beach paramedic pronounced Hernandez dead before his body was then removed from the branches, according to the police report.
Alvarado-Hernandez recalled seeing him just hours before, where they had passed nonchalantly in their Cardiff home. He called her “m’ija” — a familiar Spanish term for “my daughter” — and let her know he’d be working a little while at the church.
“He was fine,” she said. “He had never even been sick.”
Now, almost two months following his death, Hernandez’s children — Justine Hernandez, 27, and Moises Hernandez Jr., 22 — are pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against SDG&E.
Carl D. Barnes, a law firm out of Los Angeles that predominantly handles personal injury and wrongful death cases, is taking on the case.
The firm anticipates the lawsuit would be worth “at least” $10 million.
Ken Hawkins, Barnes’ longtime investigator, was informed of the incident by his neighbor, at which point he decided to reach out to the Hernandez family and begin putting together a team of litigators.
“We want to make sure everyone knows what happened,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said that not only is SDG&E liable for arriving late to the scene, but he also believes the power lines weren’t properly insulated.
The lawsuit — which will be filed within the next few months — alleges that SDG&E was negligent in not properly pruning the tree. The natural gas and electricity company owned by Sempra Energy, hires contracted workers to trim trees throughout San Diego County to prevent electrocutions, fires or power outages. According to the SDG&E website, trees in the Solana Beach area are scheduled to be trimmed between July and August every year.
SDG&E issued the following statement in response to a request for comment: “This incident remains part of an active investigation by local agencies and SDG&E. At this time, we are unable to comment.”
For the Hernandez children, the lawsuit is about “(doing) the best for our father,” said Justine Hernandez.
“My brother and I want answers and justice for our father,” she said. “He was the best dad you can dream of.”
According to Hawkins, Alvarado-Hernandez may join the lawsuit as a plaintiff in the next few weeks.
Hernandez Sr. was born and raised along with his eight siblings in Tecomán, Colima, before moving to San Diego county 33 years ago. For the last 28 years, he has lived with his younger sister, Alvarado-Hernandez.
Both single parents, they raised their children in the same household, sharing responsibilities and building a support system. The pair hosted bible studies at their home, went to church together two times a week and often attended church camp-outs and activities with their children. Alvarado-Hernandez has attended the Coastal Fellowship Church for the last 10 years, and her brother for the last six.
“For my mom, it was like she lost seven people in one,” Moya said. “It wasn’t just her brother, it was her best friend, her bible study partner.”
And for Moya, Hernandez Sr. was like a father.
“He’s all I’ve ever known,” Moya said. “When I first moved away to college, he was the one who helped me move, and every move after that, he was there. I was going to have him walk me down the aisle.”
Hernandez imbued his work with love and passion, always happy to lend a helping hand, according to Alvarado-Hernandez. But when not hard at work, he was at home, spending time with his family.
“He was a responsible man, and a hard worker,” said Alvarado-Hernandez. “And he loved his family. He loved his family.”
The Coast News contacted the Coastal Fellowship Church’s caretaker, and the church’s pastor, John Rodriguez. Both declined to comment for this story.
Lexy Brodt covers all things Del Mar and Solana Beach for The Coast News, with a primary interest in coastal development. A North County native turned UW-Madison alumna, she has produced for Wisconsin Public Radio and reported for The San Diego Union-Tribune and Wisconsin State Journal.