The evidence has been destroyed. A family wants answers. Solano Sheriff Tom Ferrara refuses to answer questions about failures that his deputies openly acknowledge.
VACAVILLE, Calif. — When her husband died on the job in 2020, longtime PG&E wife Kim Wink put blind faith in the company. Today, she wishes her sheriff hadn’t done the same.
A five-month ABC10 investigation finds the Solano County Sheriff and Coroner botched the investigation into her husband’s death.
The coroner’s office came to questionable conclusions, destroyed evidence and allowed Steve Wink’s bodyguard chain to be broken.
“An Amazon package is better tracked than my husband’s body that day,” Kim Wink said.
Before proceeding with his autopsy, authorities cleared the body out of Solano County and opened it for tissue donation. This was done in a manner that violated several official coroner’s office procedures.
The result of the failures is that Steve’s family cannot find out exactly how he died.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever know the answer for sure,” said Dr. Mike Dobersen, a retired medical examiner and coroner who has examined the Columbine deaths, the Aurora Theater shooting and the 9/11 attacks. .
This story is part of FIRE-POWER-MONEY, an award-winning ABC10 reporting project investigating wildfires and utility crises in California. View past reports at FirePowerMoney.com.
INJURIES NOT DOCUMENTED IN THE AUTOPSY
The official story on Steve Wink’s death certificate is that he died naturally of heart disease with no other circumstances present. His autopsy did not report any injuries.
But there were injuries to Steve, documented before body parts were removed for tissue donation by Donor Network West, a non-profit corporation that holds legal authority over organ and tissue donation. fabrics for most of Northern California and Northern Nevada.
The Donor Network declined to comment on Steve’s case, despite Kim’s written permission.
The group said it was getting permission to move bodies for donations, but Kim said she never gave permission to move Steve’s body out of Solano County.
Tissue harvesting was done at a little-known facility 42 miles from the Solano County Mortuary in Contra Costa County.
“I really thought it was so mishandled,” Dobersen said, adding that the body should have been examined and photographed prior to tissue donation “because this is a potential work accident.”
EVIDENCE OF DAMAGE HAS DISAPPEARED
It took Kim Wink months to find where Steve died. She found the place with the help of a friend who has experience in law enforcement.
“Not PG&E. Not Cal OSHA. Not IBEW. Not the sheriff’s department,” Kim Wink pointed out as she stood at Gates Canyon Road. “Me. And my friend.”
Kim Wink verified the location using photographs posted on Facebook. They show a telephone pole leaning in the direction of Steve’s truck, holding badly damaged communication wires, which immediately caused her to question the official story of her husband’s death.
ABC10 obtained higher quality copies of the photographs from Paul Kuroda, the freelance photographer who took them.
Kuroda says the phone lines fell at the same time a tree fell. Other witnesses confirmed Steve’s truck was already on the hill at the time.
Kuroda’s footage reveals new details about the damage to Steve’s work truck. A large metal ladder rack had been ripped from the top of the truck and was lying on the ground.
The deputies later discover that at least three PG&E employees knew about the ladder rack. One of them, who was a member of the crew who administered CPR to Steve, noted the damage in a note written at the time.
Another, a mechanic at Steve’s PG&E yard in Vacaville, said the bolts tore the metal holes in the ladder rack.
There is no evidence that PG&E reported this damage to authorities. It is not mentioned in the Cal OSHA report that cleared PG&E of any violations.
Kim Wink gave PG&E written permission to answer ABC10 questions for this story, but the company declined because it wanted to “protect the privacy and confidentiality of Steve and his family,” according to the spokesperson. Matt Nauman.
“I call the bulls -” said Kim Wink. “I’ve heard a lot of PR bullshit over the years. I can feel it.”
PG&E wouldn’t say if it still has that key piece of evidence: the damaged ladder rack.
“There’s no need to do this again,” said Dobersen, the pathologist. “The scene is gone. It was your only chance.
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A SERIES OF CASCADING FAILURES
The mountain of missteps in the case began when the Solano County Sheriff and Coroner’s Office failed to do what paramedics asked: show up.
ABC10’s report includes audio in which these doctors call dispatchers to ask law enforcement to meet them at the hospital because Steve had already died en route.
It also includes audio of deputies handing over responsibility for – and then asking to close – the industrial accident investigation into Steve’s death without responding.
“Things that should have been done weren’t,” Dobersen said. “Too many unanswered questions. And it’s tragedy upon tragedy.
“They didn’t even review anything,” Kim Wink said. “I will never get over it. My family will never recover. And I pray to God that no one else has to go through this nightmare.
ABC10 has obtained footage from an interview Solano deputies did with Ms. Wink seven months after her husband’s death.
In it, the deputies admit Steve’s death was ‘absolutely an industrial accident and it should have been documented’.
“THEY HAVE BEEN WITHOUT PITOYANCE WITH ME”
Despite promising to do what they could to make things right, the Solano County Sheriff and Coroner’s Office did not grant Ms. Wink’s requests to change Steve’s mode of death to “accidental.” ” instead of “natural”.
The sheriff’s office did not respond when asked why.
Kim Wink pleaded for the help she needed to fight PG&E, hoping to receive all the benefits she should have gotten as the wife of a worker who died in service.
“They were ruthless with me,” Kim Wink told deputies. “I lost my husband, I lost his income. I lost his pension. I lost my medical, dental vision.
Solano County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Rex Hawkins responded to our initial request for comment by providing false statements to ABC10.
His email misrepresented the basic facts of the case, including where Steve Wink was pronounced dead and how his death was reported to deputies.
When asked why he provided the false information, the sheriff’s office did not respond.
Although line-level PG&E employees granted interviews to the deputies, the PG&E Company refused to cooperate when questioned about Steve’s death.
Deputies reported receiving a phone call during their investigation from PG&E lawyer Barbara Thornhill, who “informed [deputies] PG&E couldn’t provide me with any information without a subpoena or search warrant.
PG&E is no stranger to search warrants. The company has a criminal record with 91 felony convictions in the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion and the 2018 camp fire.
Other felony charges are pending in Shasta County, including four counts of manslaughter, for the 2020 Zogg fire. It burned down the month after Steve died.
PG&E would not say whether Steve was among five worker fatalities reported to shareholders in 2020 or why he was allowed to perform his job alone in an active fire area.
Steve Wink was a spoilsport, a role the industry often calls his “first responders.” They find problems on the power grid and determine what is needed to fix them.
“He worked 37 years for this company and died on the job,” Ms Wink told MPs. “I don’t think you would treat one of your own like that.”
MORE ABC10 | ‘WHO IS BEHIND THE PG&E RESCUE?’ : California taxpayers spent $9.6 million on private attorneys who drafted a law protecting PG&E’s profits from wildfire damage. State records reveal the law firm has been representing PG&E for years.