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Apartment owner is liable for death

Civil jury finds that the company should have run a background check on handyman accused of raping, killing tenant.

January 19, 2008|By Jeremy Oberstein

BURBANK — A civil jury at the Downtown Los Angeles Superior Court returned a $12-million verdict Friday against the owner and property manager of a Burbank apartment complex for the wrongful death of Sharon Santos, lawyers for Santos’ mother said Friday.

“No amount of money can ever replace Sharon Santos,” said attorney Lawrence P. Grassini, who represented Edna Santos. “But it is some comfort for the family.”

Sharon Santos went missing in 2004. After a two-week search, her body was discovered in Chinatown stuffed in the trunk of her own car, Grassini said. She had been raped and murdered.

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Edna Santos sued Scott Villa Apartments, L.P. and Francis Property Management Inc., the owners of her daughter’s apartment complex, for hiring a maintenance man who was a convicted felon and registered sex offender, Grassini said.

“They hired him without doing a criminal background check,” he said.

Though the criminal case is still open, the property owners were found negligent for hiring maintenance man Eriberto Rodriguez.

Lawyers for the apartment complex owners maintained during the trial that a criminal background check would have been “a paperwork nightmare” and hoped to prove that Rodriguez was not responsible for killing Santos.

Though he has not been formally charged, the jury found that Rodriguez raped and killed Santos, leading her lawyer to issue a hopeful statement that he will be convicted.

“Hopefully, this verdict will lead to the conviction of Rodriguez, who is currently serving a 12-year prison term for sexual battery, robbery and other charges, all related to the tenants and co-employees of the apartment complex,” the statement read.

Burbank Police issued no comment on whether Rodriguez was a focus of their ongoing criminal investigation, but the department is building a case against a “person of interest.”

“The [district attorney’s] office has requested us to provide them with more evidence,” Burbank Police Sgt. Thor Merich said. “We’re looking for that last piece of evidence to appear, and we don’t know when and if that piece will come.”

The apartment complex owners have 15 days to file an appeal.


 JEREMY OBERSTEIN covers City Hall and public safety. He may be reached at (818) 637-3242 or by e-mail at jeremy.oberstein@ latimes.com.

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