SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO -- A man spraying weed killer at a parking lot for San Francisco International Airport last year drowned after falling through rotten plywood and into a water-filled pit, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Mateo County Superior Court.
His family discovered 63-year-old Jean Arbelbide's body in a nine-foot-deep hole a couple days after he went to work at the Park SFO lot and never came home, the suit says. The family claims South San Francisco, which owns the property, and the people who run the parking lot didn't warn about or protect the public from the danger.
The attorney for the family says it appears the history of the site on North Access Road, minutes north of the airport, played a role in the death of Arbelbide. The self-employed gardener, who lived in San Bruno, apparently fell into a leftover bit of infrastructure from when the area was used as a ship dock, Alameda-based attorney Thomas Lewellyn said.
"I'm sure it was a very frightening way to go," he added.
South San Francisco City Attorney Steve Mattas said Arbelbide's death was a terrible accident, but the city wasn't responsible. Mattas said the tenant's are liable, under the terms of the lease, for the maintenance of the property. Attempts to reach Robert E. Simms, who the suit says operates the lot, were unsuccessful.
Arbelbide went to work at the lot the morning of March 29, but when he didn't come home his family reported him missing, police said. The family found his car at the lot and then later discovered his body in the pit about two days after he disappeared.
He was still wearing the 30-40 pounds worth of spraying equipment on his back when found, police said. The coroner ruled his death a drowning.
Lewellyn is still researching the case, but he said it appears the pit Arbelbide fell into was part of a structure used to block off the water coming into the docks. Once stopped up, work could be performed on a boat, he added.
Arbelbide, who didn't have any children, was originally from France's Basque country and lived in San Mateo County more than 40 years. He was to be sent home to France for burial, according to his obituary.
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.