North Little Rock, Arkansas
Two Donrey Outdoor Advertising Co. construction workers were killed Wednesday morning when a ladder on a truck contacted high-voltage wires as the men were preparing to change a billboard along Interstate 30 in North Little Rock.
Jessie Simmons, 29, of 1401 Wolfe St. and Jose Marrero, 29, of 5423 Maple St. in North Little Rock were leaning against a metal outrigger on the back of a truck when the top of a ladder touched a 7,620-volt electrical line, police said.
The men were part of a five-man crew beginning to take down one advertisement and put up another at the billboard at 13th and Locust streets in North Little Rock about 10:25 a.m. Wednesday when the accident occurred.
“They were getting ready to take the sections off the billboard when the ball on the boom ladder truck touched the power lines,” Donrey general manger Blake Wynne said. “There was no one on the ladder or on the billboard itself.”
The owner of a nearby business said an uninjured worker rushed into the store immediately after the accident.
“He kept saying, ‘Call 911. Call 911,’ ” said Anthony Dickerson, owner of Big Chain Liquor Store. “I asked him what was wrong, but he couldn’t say anything but that.”
“I ran across the street, and it was a mess,” Dickerson said. “One guy was giving the other mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”
Marrero and Simmons were taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital in North Little Rock. They were pronounced dead shortly after arrival. The three survivors were taken to police headquarters, where they were interviewed by detectives.
“The state Labor Department and federal authorities will be doing the accident investigation. Our detectives just did the initial survivor interviews,” police spokesman Sgt. Jim Scott said.
High weeds around the billboard were trampled by Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials and employees of the North Little Rock Electric Department investigating the accident scene. A trailer holding sections of the new billboard was parked immediately under the electrical wires.
Stacy Harris, the crane operator, told police that he was distracted shortly before the accident when someone touched him on the leg. Harris, Chris Hodge and Kerre Stubbs were on the truck when the ball struck the power line.
“The guys on the truck were insulated, but the other two were grounded when the ball hit the line,” Scott said.
When Harris moved the crane away from the power lines, the top of the ladder crumpled the corner of the La Quinta Inns sign to be replaced and it bent one of the lights on the sign, Scott said.
Joe Smith, director of the North Little Rock Commerce and Government Relations Department, said the electric department was quickly notified.
“We thought it was very important that we get the [electrical] line covered,” he said.
An Internet search of an OSHA database revealed that the federal agency investigated 62 fatal accidents between 1975 and February, 1999 for which the causes of death are known. The 62 accidents resulted in 63 deaths.
Of those accidents, 26 men were killed in falls from billboards and 26 were killed by electrical shock, the records reveal.
Donrey Outdoor Advertising, Co. is listed in five accidents resulting in six deaths.
Before Wednesday, the most recent Donrey fatality occurred in Dec. 1995 when an Oklahoma City worker was killed when a crane truck rolled over on him because the outrigger had not been deployed.
The other five Donrey deaths resulted from electrical shock, including the only multiple fatality — a 1979 accident in Wichita, Kan., when two employees were electrocuted.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families,” Wynne said. “At this point we just don’t know what happened.”