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Inland Empire Residents Link Deaths To Tainted Soil

LAKE ELSINORE ( — Residents of a neighborhood in Riverside County say a dangerous cocktail of contaminants is buried underneath their homes.

KCAL9's Randy Paige reports a Marine who found "the American Dream" on Amaryllis Court in Wildomar near Lake Elsinore lost his wife weeks after she gave birth to their daughter.

Marine Master Sgt. Tom Ciccarelli says he had it all: a beautiful wife, the home he had always dreamed of, and a newborn baby girl.

But when he thinks about the birth of his daughter Kaylie, his emotions soar to pure joy - and then sink to absolute despair in a matter of seconds when he recalls the day he took his wife Fatima to the emergency room with a persistent cough.

"All of a sudden, one day out of the blue, she just started coughing and coughing, said she was sick, laid down in the bed and by the end of the day she said she was dead," he recalled.

The autopsy report lists the cause of death as "acute bilateral bronchopnemonia", which means Fatima's lungs were filled with fluid for unknown reasons.

Attorney Julia Swanson says the death of Fatima Ciccarelli may be similar to the death of 32-year-old Cynthia Turner, who lived right next door four years earlier.

"Both were diagnosed with pneumonia or pneumonitis...but it was interesting, both happened from the beginning to the end within 12 to 14 hours," Swanson said.

Swanson now represents 21 out of the 60 homeowners who live in this subdivision in Wildomar called Autumnwood who say they too are getting sick, complaining of similar symptoms, including swelling tongue and lips, nosebleeds, and sore throat.

According to Swanson, homeowners suspect the truckloads of dirt upon which there homes were constructed may have been contaminated from a water treatment plant - and now they want to know whether that soil was treated.

"All kinds of things are put in the soil when it goes to a water treatment plant," she said.

Those concerns prompted the South Cast Air Quality Management District to test the air quality inside and outside three of the homes and soil samples from two homes.

The results - which will be released Tuesday - show "all samples were within typical expected ranges for outdoor air, indoor air, and soil".

Swanson says the findings are far from conclusive.

"They are not looking at the cocktail," she said.

Autumnwood homeowner Xonia Villanueva, who has abandoned her home after she was unable to breathe and her daughters developed persistent nosebleeds and headaches said the combination of many volatile organic compounds and heavy metals found by the AQMD could explain the mystery illnesses.

"What the AQMD did not do is pay attention to the additive quality and the synergistic property of when you put these synergistic qualities together," Villanueva said.

Swanson says barium found in Fatima Ciccarelli's blood can bond with chlorides found in the home to create a lethal cocktail.

"So if you just have one, it's safe, if you just have the other, it's safe," she said. "Together, it's a nightmare."

Meanwhile, Tom Ciccarelli said he can't bring his baby girl back into the home until he's sure it's safe to do so.

"I really don't know what to do," he said. "Nobody's helping me, insurance company, bank, nobody...this is what I fought for?"

So Ciccarelli says he counts his blessings.

"I got Kaylie who's beautiful, and that's Fatima right there, that's Fatima's legacy," he said.

Residents are expected to have their own toxicologist and doctor on hand when they meet with AQMD officials on Tuesday night.

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