[UPDATED: Police Chief Uncertain of Cocaine Involvement] City Employee Commits Suicide, Jumping Off Costa Mesa City Hall

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Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
Huy Pham, in a photo brought to a candlelight vigil for him
UPDATE, MAY 31, 8:16 A.M.: Costa Mesa's police chief, Steve Staveley isn't entirely convinced by the conclusions being made from the coroner reports that Huy Pham had cocaine in his system at the time of his supposed suicide.

In an OC Register column, Staveley is quoted as saying, "Barbara [Venezia], I'm looking at the report right now. The drug found was something called Benzoylecgonine. I'm no doctor, but look at what it says on Wikipedia. Someone needs to get this information out for this man's family."

According to Wikipedia, Benzoylecgonine "is used as the main pharmaceutical ingredient in the prescription drug Esterom, a topical solution used for the relief of muscle pain." The entry goes on to point out that it "consists of ecgonine benzoate, and is the primary metabolite of cocaine."

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Mayor Gary Monahan on St. Patty's Day.
Staveley made the point to the Register that "trace amounts" could point to cocaine, but could be indicative of another drug.

UPDATE, MAY 26, 4:14 P.M. Huy Pham, the Costa Mesa city worker who jumped to his death from atop Costa Mesa City Hall after finding out he was to be laid off, had cocaine in his system when he died, according to a coroner's report.

The LA Times has the story. Pham, 29, was among the more than 200 city employees slated to receive layoff notices on March 17--the day he committed suicide.

The City Council had already been under fire because of the layoff plan. The criticism reached a fever pitch after Pham's death--especially once a certain photo of the Mayor Gary Monahan was made public.

UPDATE, MARCH 21, 5:45 P.M.: The Weekly was able to speak with Nick Berardino while he was in a taxi on his way to catch a flight home from Sacramento. He had a good laugh about Costa Mesa Mayor Gary Monahan's accusations of a union set-up, in regard to the photos Berardino leaked to the media.

"It's a politician running for cover, and politicians are great at running for cover," Berardino said. "I don't think there's anything new about that, in all of American history."

According to Berardino, nearly an hour and a half after Huy Pham's suicide, an Orange County Employees Association (OCEA) member informed him that Monahan was out front of his bar, Skosh Monahan's, dressed in a kilt and partaking in the St. Patrick's Day festitivies. Berardino, who's the general manager of the OCEA, decided he needed to see this for himself and headed there around 5 p.m.

When he arrived, he took a few photos of Monahan wearing his kilt, green bow-tie and matching headscarf before identifying himself as a member of OCEA. According to Berardino, Monahan's statements made it clear he already knew about the tragic incident before he started taking photos. 

Among the Monahan highlights, according to Berardino: 

"It's a tragedy, but I have a business to run," the mayor said, in regard to his choosing to remain at his place of business instead of going to City Hall, before Berardino ever mentioned Huy Pham.

And . . .

"I'm a businessman; I hire and fire people every day," as a response to Berardino's disbelief that the mayor would support laying off more than 200 city employees.
 

UPDATE, MARCH 21, 3:26 P.M.: Seeing as how he's the mayor of the most talked-about city in Orange County (and maybe California), and it was the same day that lay-off notices were going out to one-third of city employees, Mayor Gary Monahan​ probably should have made an appearance at City Hall. A city employee had committed suicide, and the city was in mourning. But Monahan never showed. Instead, he chose to wear a kilt and a smile and serve booze to his customers at his bar, Skosh Monahan's.

Monahan's whereabouts and attire were known due to a photo (right) that began circulating on Friday, courtesy of Nick Berardino

On Friday, Monahan released a statement blaming "the union" for shooting the photo before he knew of Pham's death. Berardino is general manager for the Orange County Employees Association.

Liberal OC was among the first to release the image on its website. The author of the post, Chris Prevatt, is a "steward" with OCEA, not a direct employee. When the image appeard on the website, it was not credited; Prevatt claims it was an oversight. According to Prevatt,
 Berardino was at City Hall for an hour before making his way to Monahan's bar. Which would discount the accusation from Monahan that he was set up.

Messages left by the Weekly for Monahan and Berardino have not been returned.

Shouldn't Monahan have been among the first to know when tragedy struck? Even if he were missing phone calls, text messages or Tweets, once he heard, shouldn't it have occurred to him to ditch the costume, put on a nice shirt and show his face at City Hall, along with all the other City Council members? A rational person would say "obviously." In this instance, Monahan wasn't rational.

Monahan's statement:

Yesterday was a heartbreaking day for all of us who call Costa Mesa home.

What is lost in all of the rhetoric is the fact that this is a tragic incident in the midst of a very difficult situation. Our city lost one of its brethren, and it certainly will take some time for it to heal.

Before I was informed of yesterday's incident, the union decided to take despicable advantage of this tragic situation to advance their agenda.

Had I known what transpired, I never would have agreed to pose for photos or engage in any revelry.

I became informed of the situation and contacted two of my fellow council members, who were on the scene, and quickly brought me up to speed with the details of the situation.

After learning of the volatility of the situation, I realized that my presence could further inflame and escalate the situation, and decided not to visit City Hall.

I remained in constant communication with my council colleagues, and was kept informed as the rest of the day transpired.

I understand the anger and hurt surrounding these potential layoffs. I--and my council colleagues--have not made these decisions lightly, and we realize that our decisions are impacting families.

As Tom explained, we are working with staff to work through this very difficult situation, and I am hopeful that we can eliminate the politicization of this tragic incident, and work together to heal our great city.

Gary Monahan,
Mayor


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