SDG&E wrongful-death trial continues

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) followed Federal Aviation Administration guidelines in marking equipment that might be aviation hazards, the executive vice president of San Diego-based Sempra Energy testified today.

Edwin Guiles was called by the plaintiffs in the trial of the wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the families of four Marines killed in January 2004 when the helicopter they were in hit a transmission tower at Camp Pendleton.

Guiles testified that he was aware of concerns over power lines and aviation safety when he was an executive with SDG&E, a Sempra subsidiary, but most of those issues were dealt with by subordinates.

He said he attended a meeting in Los Angeles with aviation officials and representatives of Southern California Edison in the early-1990s. He said he then ordered what he called a “system-wide assessment’’ of power lines and transmission towers to make sure they were marked to FAA specifications.

“We would look to the FAA for guidance on how to mark our facilities,’’ Guiles said. We would operate our facilities in a safe manner based on the policies and guidelines of the FAA.’'

The FAA called for any structure above 200 feet to be marked, he said.

“My recollection is we were following FAA guidelines,’’ Guiles said.

Guiles testified that he didn’t know if the tower that was crashed into, which was built in 1983 at a height of less than 200 feet, was included in the company’s assessment.

Killed in the crash were the pilot, Capt. Adam Miller, 30, co-pilot 1st Lt. Michael Lawlor, 27, Staff Sgt. Lori Privette, 26, and 22-year-old Cpl. Joshua Harris.

Plaintiffs attorney Todd Macaluso told jurors in his opening statement that the crash would not have happened if the tower had been lit.

The Marines were flying in the dark as they returned from a training mission, the lawyer said.

Macaluso told the jury that SDG&E was negligent for not properly marking towers or power lines on the base.

SDG&E lawyer Larry Davis told the jurors that the company had not been asked to light the tower that was crashed into, and that the chopper was traveling too fast, too low, and was off course.

The trial could go into the hands of the jury by the end of the week.