Memory haunts man who witnessed co-worker's electrocution

THE BALTIMORE SUN

David M. Lanter can't stop replaying the deadly moment in 1992 when a co-worker at Genstar's Marriottsville quarry was electrocuted.

"Fire shot from his eyes and his mouth," Mr. Lanter said, recalling David M. Logue's death. "I'm just trying to deal with it, so I can sleep. It goes over and over in my mind."

The July 6, 1992, accident occurred when the boom of a heavy crane operated by Mr. Lanter brushed high-voltage power lines as Mr. Logue, 29, stood on the ground, attaching an 18-by-10-foot metal plate to the crane's hook.

The two men were working alone, constructing a metal box to cover a pump.

Mr. Logue gave the "thumbs-down to bring the hook down, and it just went wrong, and when he touched the hook to the plate . . ." Mr. Lanter stopped, overcome by the memory.

Two weeks after the accident, Mr. Lanter, who had spent 16 years with the Genstar Stone Products Co., was accused of negligence and forced to resign.

Late last month, his co-worker's widow sued him for about $3 million.

Annette J. Logue can't sue Genstar because state law bars such suits when there is a workers' compensation claim, her attorney said. Mr. Lanter said he had no training on the crane, but federal officials said they can't enforce the law requiring such training because of a ban by Congress.

The accident left Mrs. Logue, of the 11100 block of Pfeffers Road in Bradshaw in northern Baltimore County, alone to rear two sons, ages 5 and 9, on whose behalf she also filed the wrongful-death action.

Mr. Lanter, 52, of the 400 block of Pontiac Ave. in Brooklyn, said he expected the lawsuit.

"I don't blame her," he said gently. "I'd do anything if it will help her."

But he had no kind words for his former employer, Genstar.

"I never had one hour's training" on the heavy crane, he said. "They just said, 'Can you run this?' I'm a farm boy and I can run anything that's got a key in it. I can start it and learn how to run it by trial and error.

"But do I know how to operate it safely? The answer is no. I feel I've been used for a scapegoat."

Mrs. Logue said she has no ill feelings toward Mr. Lanter, whom she met at her husband's funeral. "I can imagine he's having a hard time with it. It was bad enough for me when I heard about it, but to see it."

The Logues were high school sweethearts and married right after they graduated from Perry Hall High School. They dreamed of sending their sons to college.

Now the two boys are dealing with their father's death. After the accident, Mrs. Logue said, her younger son wouldn't let her out of his sight. Her older son started failing in school. She quit her part-time job as a bank teller to be with them.

She, too, is angry at Genstar.

One of her attorneys, Joseph L. Johnson, explained that she cannot sue the company because her husband's death was covered by Maryland's Workers' Compensation Commission fund. Because of her part-time job, she received only $17,500 in compensation benefits.

"But if [Mr. Lanter] had negligently injured someone else, a nonemployee, clearly Genstar or its insurer would pay any judgment -- and I think the same principle should prevail here," he said.

If they can prove both Mr. Lanter and Genstar negligent, he said, "then I would expect Genstar or its insurer to pay any judgment that we may obtain against Mr. Lanter."

Genstar response

At Genstar, Donald E. Bowman, vice president of finance and administration and calcium carbonates, said Mr. Lanter had two four-hour safety courses in January and February of 1992.

"Fortunately for us, they dealt specifically with use of heavy equipment near power lines," said Mr. Bowman, who couldn't say specifically if Mr. Lanter had been trained to operate the crane during his 16 years with the company.

"He was let go," Mr. Bowman said. The meeting was emotional, he said, "but we didn't see any way to keep the employee. We had to make the decision."

"They told me to get a lawyer," said Mr. Lanter.

The company did advise Mr. Lanter to get an attorney in the event of a lawsuit, Mr. Bowman confirmed.

Genstar paid a $5,250 fine assessed after the accident by the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Mr. Bowman said. The amount was reduced after the company contested the original $8,400 fine.

MSHA's report blamed the accident on a failure to operate the 8-ton crane at a safe distance from the power lines. Genstar, which was cited for storing the parts too close to the 7,600-volt lines, moved the storage area within a week.

The accident report noted a long-standing prohibition against MSHA spending any money to enforce training requirements at rock, sand and gravel quarries.

"Congress, after intense lobbying by the stone, sand and gravel industries, put this rider on the bill," said David J. Park, chief of MSHA's division of safety for the nation's noncoal mines.

"So the training requirements are still mandatory," Mr. Park said, "and we are still restricted from enforcing it. That sticks in my craw."

Efforts to eliminate the ban failed again this year when Congress attached the rider to the Department of Labor's 1994 budget, said Sylvia Milanese of the department's Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs. The law including the training requirements became effective in 1978, she said, but enforcement has been barred since about late 1980.

So even if a lack of training figured in the Genstar fatality, Mr. Park said, there could be no additional penalties "even if we were able to establish that the gentleman didn't get the minimum training."

In 1993, there were 53 quarry deaths, he said. The most common were truck crashes, accidents with machinery such as crushers, and workers trapped by falling rock, sand or gravel. There were three electrocutions in 1993, four in 1992, including Mr. Logue.

Figures aren't tallied for underlying causes, said Mr. Park, who estimated that lack of training was a factor in 20 of the 53 deaths in 1993.

"Fatalities over the years seem to be occurring at the properties where we are prohibited from enforcing the provisions of the training act," he said.

Mr. Johnson said, "In this case, clearly proper training would have in all likelihood prevented Mr. Logue's untimely death, and if publicity about his death can change the course of action in Congress, then perhaps he will not have died in vain."

'Wrongful death'

Mrs. Logue also hopes for a change in the government's policy.

"I would hope that this woke them up," she said. "It was a wrongful death: He didn't have to die."

Mr. Lanter said neither he nor Mr. Logue knew how to operate the crane, but "I ran it a little better, so I operated it that day."

The two men had worked together off and on for three years. During the four months before the accident, they worked together every day.

"Usually, the crane operator and the ground man both get electrocuted," said Mr. Lanter. "I don't know why I didn't, except I remembered in a safety class they told us not to step down [but] to jump down. I jumped down and hollered on the CB for help, but it was too late.

"They never asked if I need help," he said. "I had a hard time with it. I still do."

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