Remembering lost loved one, family fights for safer jobs Survivors turn lobbyist for bill on MOSH fines.

April 04, 1991|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Evening Sun Staff

Considerate is the word that keeps coming up whenever the name of Brian Para is mentioned.

The voices of his parents, Joan and Carl Para, tremble as they speak of their son and his ability to put others before himself.

Para's girlfriend, Karen McAlpin, becomes animated as she describes how he stopped along a highway to chase down a stray animal someone had thrown from a moving car.

Two weeks ago, Para -- the young man whom Joan Para calls a major part of her family and whom McAlpin calls her "whole life" -- was killed in a construction accident. The 21-year-old Crofton man died March 19 when a 12-foot-deep hole in which he was laying a sewer line collapsed.

But the Paras and McAlpin have been able to go beyond their grief in the hope of saving another person from a similar tragedy.

They are making it a personal mission to lobby for legislation that would increase the amount the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health administration could fine companies. House Bill 1083 is now before the state Senate Finance Committee.

Presently, the maximum fine for a company found in violation of a state law which results in death is $1,000. However, if MOSH proves the company willfully disregarded the law, the fine can be $10,000.

The bill would increase the fines to $7,000 and $70,000, respectively.

It was defeated by a state legislative committee, but passed a second reading in the House of Delegates, ironically the day Para died, McAlpin says.

"I wasn't aware of the bill," says Joan Para, who works for state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, D-City. "If I had seen it, I would have jumped on the bandwagon.

"The first time I heard about the bill [being voted down], it was a slap in the face," McAlpin says. "I just don't understand why this bill wouldn't be passed. The only thing I can think of is money. They're protecting the companies. But aren't the employees part of the company?"

The accident that killed Para was the fourth construction cave-in in Anne Arundel County since 1988.

"That many cave-ins?" McAlpin says. "Something is not being done.

"If you only have to pay $10,000 if you kill someone, that's nothing for a company," she says. "Seventy thousand might make a difference, an impact."

Joan Para says she has gone to as many senators as she can, stopping some in the hallways of the State House, to urge them to consider approving the measure. But, with only days left in the 1991 session, time is running out, she acknowledges.

"To lose a child is just horrible. Our family is still numb. It's doubly hard to know it didn't have to happen. That's why I'm channeling my energies into this bill," she explains.

"It's not about me," McAlpin says of her effort. "It's really not about Brian. Nothing is going to bring him back. This is about the men going down in those holes. This is about the wives and girlfriends who don't know what their boyfriends and husbands are doing."

Officials of the company for which Para was working, Razzana & Fohner Inc. of Davidsonville, declined to comment while the state is investigating the accident.

A preliminary report by MOSH showed the hole did not have sloped sides and lacked anything to hold back the dirt.

Para walked into the hole for reasons unknown, police say.

His family says the company told them that Para, an apprentice plumber, was not supposed to go into the hole. But Joan Para says that if her son went in he must have done so because he thought his job was at stake.

McAlpin, meanwhile, says she hasn't yet begun to consider her life's alternatives. She says she and Para had planned to move to North Carolina, where she would attend the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

She would attend school, Para would become a journeyman or a master plumber, and eventually the two would marry and have a family.

"We were in no hurry," she says. "We though we had forever. But sometimes forever is so close."

"He was perfect for me," she says, a smile coming over her face. "He was the most considerate person I ever met. I loved him, and that's what helps. There's nothing I didn't tell him. He knew how I felt.

"I feel lucky to have known him. I can't feel sorry for myself."

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