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A Times Editorial

Lessons from a child's death

The Tampa Bay community should not write off as an unfortunate accident the death of a 2-year-old boy who apparently fell through an uncovered septic tank at a Hillsborough County mobile home park. Sheriff David Gee needs to thoroughly examine whether this tragedy amounts to a crime, and county commissioners should order code enforcement officers to inspect mobile home parks, particularly those that cater to low-income and migrant families. This is a senseless loss of life that could have been prevented.

Luis Martinez was found dead Saturday in an underground tank 50 yards from his family's mobile home. Authorities believe he fell through an 11-by-13-inch opening in the septic tank that was covered by grass. While the property had no history of code complaints under its current owner, inspectors reported they found numerous violations in the course of investigating the boy's death. Another septic tank was capped with a thin piece of metal, officials said, and they found improper wiring, windows screwed shut, broken tie-downs and other violations. Inspectors also cordoned off two septic tank openings at a mobile home lot with the same owner across the street; officials said the concrete tank openings there were too high above the ground.

Code enforcement deserves credit; officials jumped on the case and have kept the public informed of their findings in a timely manner. The immense public interest only underscores the valuable role code enforcement plays in ensuring that all housing in our communities is safe.

But the fact that inspectors found numerous other violations only after a child's body was found underscores something else: The county needs to keep better tabs on the living conditions in these parks.

This is no easy feat; because of budget cuts this year, the code enforcement department has just 35 inspectors and supervisors, three fewer than last year. There are 430 mobile home parks in the county. These inspectors need to divvy up the caseload and make a sweep. That would at least remind the park owners and operators that they are on the government's radar — and it could save another child's life.

Lessons from a child's death 12/01/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 6:37pm]
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