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Chimney accident report disputed
Relatives of a Ceres area man who is in a coma after a brick chimney toppled on him is disputing published statements made by police about the accident.

Sam Whitely, 58, remains hospitalized at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto after sustaining multiple fractured bones in the 8 p.m. incident on Saturday, July 12. Whitely's injuries include multiple skull fractures, a broken right arm, broken pelvis, broken right leg and ankle, broken ribs and a lacerated liver.

The chimney was left standing at 2942 Service Road after Ceres firefighters engaged in a recent practice burn, said Ceres Police Lt. Brent Smith. Whitely's family told the Courier Monday that Mr. Whitely went to the site to remove the chimney fearing that his six-year-old grandson living next door would wander into the site and be exposed to hazard. He was not collecting bricks for a garden, they said, disputing a statement in an accident report taken by officers.

"He went over to knock it down," said Sherry, the man's daughter. "He doesn't even have a garden." She said the July 16 Courier article "made it sound like he was stealing bricks."

However, Lt. Brent Smith stood by statements collected from the victim by officer Dennis Perry. The victim was able to give Perry a statement that he was removing the chimney bricks for a garden. That statement conflicts with one made by Richard Bradford on scene who told Sgt. Deidre Borges that the victim went over to the chimney to knock it down.

Police said that as Whitely was chipping away at bricks at chest level, the entire stack collapsed and toppled on him. Whitely's son, Brandon Whitely, heard the bricks fall and rushed to his father's aid. A severely mangled Whitely was temporarily buried in the rubble.

San Francisco attorney Matt Quinlin has been hired by the family. He said he is investigating the incident for a possible filing of a claim against the city. He noted that the case may be either wrongful death or a personal injury accident against the property owner, Genesis Family Enterprises, and the city of Ceres. The site is being prepared for the development of the Hampton Inn.

Quinlin said a private investigator is looking into the facts of the case. When told that the daughter told the Courier that Whitely went to the house to knock the chimney down, Quinlin said: "They said that? They don't exactly know what he did over there. They just know we wasn't stealing bricks."

The attorney reiterated that Whitely was concerned that kids who play outside were "going to end up going over there because it's somewhat of an attractive nuisance and he told them that he was going to go see if it was a hazard or not. So he went out there to go check it out and the next thing you know he had the bricks on him. And again anything other than that is pure speculation."

Public Safety Director Art deWerk limited his response because of potential litagation but did go on record as saying: "The city didn't expect people to go and take the chimney apart. We had no reason to believe that the chimney was a hazard. We certainly didn't expect anyone to remove bricks from it."