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Southern California hoarder dies in overgrown yard with kitten in lap

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SANTA ANA, Calif. - Orange County firefighters wearing hazmat suits had to climb over vegetation and trash piled 1.5 metres high to get to a yard where a woman died in a chair amid debris with a kitten in a carrier on her lap.

The Orange County Register reports that firefighters arrived Tuesday night at the Rosewood Avenue home of Rita Corpin, 72, who was pronounced dead in her yard. No foul play is suspected.

Corpin owned two other Orange County homes where animal control officials attempted Wednesday to capture more than 60 feral cats. The retired high school history teacher owned two dogs and fed area cats regularly, Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.

Because her home was so full of debris, Corpin lived alone in a truck in her driveway, Bertagna said. It took officials several hours to remove Corpin's body from the property because of the trash and overgrown plants.

Over time, the hoarding and neglect at Corpin's properties prompted 26 contacts by Santa Ana city officials, city spokeswoman Tanya Lyon said. The city levied fines and warned Corpin about her properties' poor condition, but she eventually refused to allow city officials on her properties, Lyon said. By making small changes, Corpin prevented the city from seeking a search warrant to perform inspections.

A member of the Orange County Task Force on Hoarding's executive committee, Fire Insp. Darren Johnson, said the group had not worked with Corpin.

"I wish we would have known about this," Johnson said. "We probably could have salvaged her."

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