Mayor Franklin Accused of Causing Wrongful Death at Fire Museum Party


5/6/14lA lawsuit filed in Riverside Superior Court accuses Mayor Debbie Franklin of having negligently caused the death of a Banning resident. Banning resident Pat Azarnoff blames the Mayor and the Fire Memories Museum for the death of her husband, 81 year old Roy Azarnoff, (Riverside case # RIC1308649 – view).

On August 25, 2012, Mayor Debbie Franklin held a lavish birthday party for her husband Roy at the taxpayer funded Fire Memories Museum, located at 5261 W. Wilson Street. The lawsuit alleges that about 80 guests were in attendance.


Mayor Debbie Franklin hosted a big party at the taxpayer funded Fire Memories Museum on Wilson Street

Mayor Debbie Franklin hosted a big party at the taxpayer funded Fire Memories Museum on Wilson Street

The Museum facility was originally designed as a fire station, and was never intended to accommodate big parties with substantial numbers of guests. The Museum, which is located on a busy 4 lane street within a 45 mph zone, has insufficient parking of its own.

According to the lawsuit, this resulted in overcrowded and dangerously chaotic parking conditions at the location. Many guests had to park on the south side of Wilson, with no way to safely cross the 4 lane street.


When he left Franklin’s party at about 9 PM, Azarnoff was struck by a car while crossing Wilson Street ; he died on the scene. His wife of 60 years, Pat, was also struck, but survived after sustaining severe injuries.




According to Banning Municipal Code Section 17.108.040, events of this nature require a “Temporary Use Permit” by the City, (view sample application). The lawsuit alleges that neither Mayor Debbie Franklin nor the Fire Museum bothered to obtain the required permit for the 80-guest party.

Mayor Debbie Franklin is accused of negligently causing the death of 81 year old Roy Azarnoff

As Mayor, Debbie Franklin knew that she needed a permit, but did not obtain one

For a number of reasons, Franklin knew – or at least should have known – that a permit was required :


  • as the Mayor she knew about the laws that govern the City of Banning.
  • as a former Allstate Insurance claim manager with 28 years experience (source), Franklin was familiar with permit and insurance requirements for the large event she was holding.
  • Mayor Debbie Franklin is the only Council member that continuously holds herself out as a self-proclaimed expert on all governmental issues. No matter whether the issue is local, State or Federal in nature, Franklin always acts like she “knows government”. Franklin therefore knew or should have known about the need for a permit.




According to the lawsuit, the fact that a permit was never obtained, was a contributing factor in the death of Roy Azarnoff. The plaintiffs allege that, had a permit been in place, the parking chaos at the Museum would have not occurred. They say that safety could have been assured by either imposing a requirement for valet parking, or by limiting the number of guests to the available parking capacity at the Museum.

Wilson Street has 4 lanes with a speed limit of 45 mph. Pedestrians cannot safely cross, particularly at night

Wilson Street has 4 lanes with a speed limit of 45 mph. Pedestrians cannot safely cross, particularly at night

Other precautionary requirements could have consisted of a parking shuttle service and a temporarily reduced speed limit.

Such restrictions would have made it safe for guests to attend the party. With permit restrictions in place, guests would have not been forced to cross the busy 4 lanes of Wilson Street in total darkness, in order to get to their cars parked on the opposite (south) side.

The lawsuit holds two parties – Mayor Debbie Franklin as well as the Fire Memories Museum – responsible for the death of 81-year old Roy Azarnoff.

The building that houses the Fire Museum is owned by the City of Banning. For the third year in a row, taxpayer subsidy is given to the Museum in form of free rent ($ 1 /year).



It is not just the City’s ordinance that required a permit for the party. The lease between the City and the Fire Museum also called for the Museum to seek a permit for the event, (see lease – Article 6,(A) ).

despositionIn a sworn deposition, Fire Museum owner Douglas Hammer admitted that he knowingly violated the lease agreement when he held the party (view relevant deposition excerpt).

Franklin also knew about this provision in the lease – she had approved the contract just 6 weeks earlier, on July 10, 2012. There can be no question that, when the Museum failed to obtain the permit, it violated both the lease agreement and City code.

At this point the City of Banning has not been named in the lawsuit, however, this could change at any time.



All local media reports about on the accident were nonspecific : only the name of the victim and the time and location of the accident were reported (view reports by and Press Enterprise).

Media-BlackoutRemarkably, not a single media outlet mentioned that the victim had attended a party hosted by the Mayor of Banning. That the accident occurred at the Fire Memories Museum, was also conveniently omitted from the reports.

Apparently attempting to keep her direct connection to the accident “Hush Hush”, Mayor Debbie Franklin seems to have ordered an immediate media blackout.

For almost 2 years, no information about Franklin’s or the Fire Museum’s involvement in this tragedy could be found anywhere – it was swept under the rug “Franklin-style” – until now.



Is this the first time Mayor Debbie Franklin has acted like she is above the law ? – not at all.

In 2011, Franklin ran a charity that was suspended by the California Secretary of State. While suspended, the charity engaged in unlawful fundraising activity. (Government Code Section 12599.6, (f), (1) ) – see previous story).

arroganceIn 2010, when the government funded Haven Coffee House illegally operated without a business license, building permits or health inspection, Franklin – ( along with Robinson, Hanna and Botts) looked the other way. Franklin allowed the violations to continue for well over a year , (see story).

Anytime lawlessness is alleged in Banning, one can count on Mayor Franklin to attempt to sweep the issue under the rug, and crush an investigation (see the allegations just reported in this article).

Here is yet another example : 3 months ago, when it came to light that former City manager Andy Takata had illegally – without authorization by the Council – changed a contract with developer Pearlman (Village at Paseo San Gorgonio), Franklin again showed no concern whatsoever about Takata’s blatantly illegal stunt – to the contrary, she supported it.

Even when public officials are committing crimes on camera (watch video), they can count on Mayor Franklin for her continued support (source). Franklin’s unshaken commitment to thug District Attorney Paul Zellerbach is a telling example of her lack of values and character as the Mayor of Banning.

As the above examples show, obedience of the law is not very high on Mayor Franklin’s list. Her role in the tragic death of Roy Azarnoff is indicative of an attitude that suggests City ordinances do not apply to her.

Mayor Debbie Franklin is behaving like she is above the law.



When the Mayor feels no need to abide by City ordinances, lawlessness rules City Hall.

Mayor Franklin not only broke the law, she also kept her involvement in the wrongful death of a Banning citizen from the public. Who does she think she is ? No City is served well by a Mayor who behaves like she is above the law.

Is it time for Mayor Debbie Franklin to resign ? – you decide.



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