Two roadside workers were critically injured in Columbia yesterday morning when a street lamp they were moving hit a 7,600-volt electric cable. A third man operating the crane used to hoist the 28-foot light pole also suffered burns.
Joel Badger, 23, of the 200 block of Turnwood Drive in Glen Burnie and Roger Rexrode, 48, of the 7900 block of Easdale Road in Baltimore were treated at Howard County General Hospital and later flown by helicopter to the Francis Scott Key Burn Center in Baltimore, where they were listed in critical condition.
Carl Moats Jr., 24, of the 15800 block of Boysenberry Drive in Gaithersburg escaped serious injury and was in stable condition at Howard County General last night.
Mr. Badger and Mr. Moats work for the streetlight division of the Willow Grove, Pa.-based Asplundh Tree Expert Co., a private contractor hired by the State Highway Administration, police said. Mr. Rexrode works for the SHA, police said.
Battalion Chief Donald Howell of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services said the victims were fortunate to have survived the voltage of the single power line, which carries 63 times the electric force of a household socket.
About 9:30 a.m., Mr. Moats sat in the black and white Asplundh utility truck at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Route 175, operating the crane as Mr. Badger and Mr. Rexrode used their hands to guide the pole into its base. The top of the lamp pole swung, hitting the top of a set of five BG&E; power lines stretching along and across northbound U.S. 29.
All three workers came into contact with a potentially fatal charge of electricity, which was absorbed by the pole and the truck.
Mr. Moats staggered and ran to flag down passing cars, drawing the attention of Ellicott City real estate agent Karen Kehoe. Seconds later, Annette Smith-Rich, a registered nurse at the Maryland Division of Correction in Jessup, also stopped to help.
Tim and Len Besold of East Baltimore had just finished doing some carpeting work in Columbia and were on their way to another job in Hunt Valley when they passed the accident.
"I saw a big orange ball of fire and pulled over," Tim Besold said.
"We saw somebody running and thought it was an accident," said his brother, Len.
The men pulled the workers away from the truck, and Mrs. Rich and Ms. Kehoe assisted the injured men.
As Mrs. Rich began to perform CPR on Mr. Badger, Mr. Moats became frantic and began tapping his co-worker on the face.
"He was so upset," Mrs. Rich said. "He kept saying, 'Joel, wake up. We're going out tonight.' " A few feet away, Ms. Kehoe tried to resuscitate Mr. Rexrode.
"I just started doing what I was supposed to do," Mrs. Rich said. "I just hope they make it."
The accident closed the right northbound lane of traffic on U.S 29 for about 90 minutes. The northbound ramp from Route 175 was closed for at least three hours, police said.
A Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokesman said almost 900 Columbia customers lost service for up to four hours when the power lines were shut down to make the accident site safe for emergency personnel. BG&E; spokesman John Metzger said anyone working near the powerful distribution lines is required to first notify the utility, but no notification was given.
Maryland Occupational Safety and Health officials were investigating the incident.
"It happens way too much," said Roy Blades, an assistant chief of MOSH compliance services. "High voltage lines will kill."