A crane driver was critically burned and two other construction workers were seriously injured at a job site at a Brentwood shopping center after a scaffold being moved by a crane came in contact with a high voltage power line.
The accident happened at 10:42 a.m. yesterday, when workers for Marsa Inc., a Castle Shannon masonry contractor, were moving the tower scaffold at the construction site of Brentwood Towne Square, a $30 million project that is replacing the Brentwood-Whitehall Shopping Center.
A spokeswoman for Marsa said the scaffold didn’t actually touch the power line, but came close enough to cause the 138,000-volt line to arc, sending massive amounts of electricity to the ground.
John Laudenslager, a spokesman for Duquesne Light, said the condition of the power line, as viewed through binoculars, made it seem as though it did make contact with the scaffold, which was being moved by the crane’s hydraulic arm.
Either way, the result was the same for the three workers who were shocked by a surge of electricity thousands of times as great as would come out of an ordinary household plug.
The crane operator, Dale Haslett, 29, of South Park, was in critical condition at Mercy Hospital’s burn unit with second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of his body.
Another worker, Joseph Scott Taylor, 35, of Charleroi, was in serious condition in the burn unit. A third worker, 22-year-old Christopher Guty, of Uniontown, was not burned but suffered electrical shock. He is in serious condition in Mercy’s trauma unit, said hospital spokeswoman Linda Ross.
Construction worker John Zahorchak of the South Side witnessed the accident.
“I heard a loud explosion and we all ran over,” Zahorchak said. He said all three workers were on the ground. Someone tried to remove Haslett’s clothing, which was on fire.
“It was very scary,” Zahorchak said.
The job site near Route 51 and Brownsville Road in Brentwood was shut down after the accident, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was asked to investigate.
About 10,000 Duquesne Light customers lost their power because of the accident. Laudenslager said power was restored to 8,000 customers by 11:08 a.m. The remainder had their power restored by 11:40 a.m.
A section of Brownsville Road near Route 51 was closed for a short time after the accident.
Dr. Jorge R. Varcelotti, assistant director of the burn center at Mercy Hospital, said contact with a high voltage power line causes burns on the skin as well as damage to internal organs and muscles.
He said the electricity travels to areas of least resistance,” such as the nerves, and causes the bones and tendons to burn.
Varcelotti said the first few days after an accident are the most critical for treatment, but the road to recovery is a long one for a victim of a high voltage shock.
What should a person do if he or she witnesses someone be shocked by a high voltage wire?
Stay away, said Laudenslager. Anyone who tries to rescue a person who is shocked by a high voltage line puts himself in harm’s way.
Deaths and serious injuries from high voltage lines are not uncommon, especially for workers who repair utility lines and cut down trees.
Last Aug. 10, Thomas Moyes, 34, of New Kensington, a lineman for Allegheny Power, was electrocuted and two other linemen were injured fixing a storm-damaged power line in Bell, Westmoreland County.
In February 2001, Eric Rahm, a lineman, was replacing traffic signals when the hydraulic system on a cherry picker malfunctioned and he was thrown into two 12,800 volt transmission lines and suffered burns over 60 percent of his body. In October 2000, Tim Hobe, 37, a roofer from Rices Landing, Greene County, suffered burns over 46 percent of his body after coming in contact with a power line that carried 7,000 to 12,000 volts of electricity. Both Rahm and Hobe suffered extensive injuries, but survived.
In June 2000, Raymond Sieber, 43, of Reserve, a part-time tree trimmer, was electrocuted in McCandless when a branch fell on a live wire.