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Sunday fire claims SLO mobile home resident 

A midday fire caused by, fire officials say, a cigarette, left a San Luis Obispo man dead and his home in the Chumash Mobile Home Park a gutted, blackened shell.

San Luis Obispo fire trucks responded to the home on May 1 after a neighbor saw swirling smoke and called 911. Fire officials estimate they arrived four minutes later and found flames already enveloping the back half of the mobile home.

The fire, which was large enough that officers asked neighbors to move their cars because of the intense heat, was quickly contained. While fighting the blaze, firefighters found the home's resident collapsed near an exit. Resuscitation on scene was unsuccessful and the victim was pronounced dead of carbon monoxide inhalation at French Hospital.

In a move that surprised some in the community, both the Tribune and KCOY tracked down the name of the victim and revealed it in their coverage of the fire - KCOY on Sunday night; the Tribune on Monday. It's a common, if unwritten, practice with many media sources to hold the name of accident victims until police officials notify other family members, which usually happens within 24 hours.

Gerald Taylor, the victim's brother-in-law, lives in Atascadero with his wife, Grace, and read on Monday over breakfast about how his brother-in-law had died. He then woke the victim's sister and broke the news to her.

"All they had to do was wait," he said, of the paper's decision to reveal the name. "They didn't give a damn who they hurt."

In the Tribune's defense, City Editor Silas Lyons pointed to his paper's long record of sensitivity in how they cover the community. Lyons said the newspaper goes out of its way to address ethical concerns - like the need to report the truth fully and fairly while still seeking to minimize harm - on a story-by-story basis.

For this story, the Tribune staff was concerned that if people with relatives in the park saw the photo of the burned-out trailer, they'd wonder if it were their family member who had died.

"In this case we were extremely dismayed to learn that the authorities had not been successful in contacting the family members," Lyons said. "We try to do our jobs with sensitivity and we still have to make difficult calls." ³

-Abraham Hyatt

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