One week after an explosion that seared 61 percent of his body, the force of which blew him into the Sport Chalet pool, Victor Gonzalez remains at Huntington Hospital, unconscious, and surrounded by family and friends.
"I'm still in shock,'' said Gonzalez's wife, Elsie Martinez, who is pregnant with their second child. She and Gonzalez are both 25 and have a 4-year-old boy. The Tujunga couple has been married for seven years and have been friends since junior high school.
"I have to be strong for the three of them. I try not to cry or stress too much — I try to think the way he would think,'' Martinez told Patch on Thursday.
Gonzalez was one of two Sport Chalet employees severely burned on March 1 after an explosion in the utility closet of the scuba area, located outside the Foothill Boulevard store. They went to the utility area following reports of a gas leak. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Arson Explosive Detail and officials from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health have launched separate investigations into the explosion. It does not appear to be a suspicious fire, however.
OSHA spokesman Peter Melton told the La Cañada Valley Sun that inspectors will examine the store’s injury and illness prevention program, which businesses are required to have in California. The program should detail procedures for myriad scenarios, including checking on gas smells, he told the newspaper.
Sport Chalet spokesman Evan Pondel declined to identify the employees or comment on their conditions, citing privacy rights.
'A Long Road to Recovery'
Damage to the La Cañada store, the chain's corporate headquarters, amounted to $10,000, said Ron Larriva, Los Angeles County battalion chief at Fire Station 82. When Larriva heard about the extent of Gonzalez's injuries — second and third-degree burns to 61 percent of his body — the veteran firefighter, well acquainted with the aftermath of severe burns, said Gonzalez has a long road to recovery in front of him.
"Burns are very serious and very painful. You have to be so careful about infections. And it’s not just the pain, but the mental and emotional part of the recovery too that can be really difficult,'' Larriva said.
He pointed out with explosions, there's no time to react.
Yet, following the explosion, Martinez said, her husband did just that. After climbing out of the pool, and seeing his co-worker still in the water, Gonzalez, his clothing and skin scorched, ran inside Sport Chalet and yelled for someone to call 911 and help his injured employee.
"He was more concerned for her,'' Martinez said, adding that her husband was probably in shock, but still worried about his colleague.
Gonzalez was named a supervisor of the store back in January, something he had long hoped to accomplish, said Martinez, who works a few blocks east at the La Cañada PetCo. She said she is trying to remain positive, and take it day by day. Gonzalez is healing, and he is stable, she said.
Donations for the Family
Family friend and La Cañada resident Jill Pieterse said any sign of healing is something to cling to — like the fact that his eyebrows are growing back. And it appeared he tried to open his eyes on Saturday.
Pieterse is organizing donations for the family. Gift cards to grocery stores and Target have been collected thus far. Until an official fund is established, she said, anyone who would like to donate to the Gonzalez/Martinez family may contact Pieterse by email at email@example.com.
Late Friday, Sport Chalet announced it will also hold a blood drive at the store for the injured workers on March 26. Further, In addition, it has established two funds to further support the two injured employees: www.giveforward.com/Victor andwww.giveforward.com/Lauren. Both websites are set up to receive contributions directly, "to help support the families of both Victor and Lauren in this time of distress,'' a press release states.
"Victor is such an amazing guy. They are such a beautiful, kind, hard-working family. This is just so heartbreaking," she said.
Editor's Note: As Patch finds out about any additional fundraising, we will update this story. If you hear of something, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sport Chalet Sets Up Funds for Victims
Sport Chalet CEO: Explosion is Under Investigation
2 Burned in Explosion at Sport Chalet
Follow La Cañada Patch on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for the newsletter.