Engineer Testifies In Health Club Suit

October 02, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — For anyone needing a brush-up physics course, Carroll County CircuitCourt Room 4 is the place to be this week.

And while the ins and outs of electron paths, radio transmissions or conductivity tests mayseem to have little to do with a fitness club or a $1.5 million negligence suit, a Seattle electrical engineer is expected to continue outlining this morning the physics behind a July 1989 fire at Hampstead's Four Seasons Health Club.

Ed Schaefer is the first expert witness to take the stand for thehealth club and its insurance company in a lawsuit filed against Prestige Cable TV of Maryland Imc., cable wiring contractors North Central Services, A & M Underground Sprinklers, and fire alarm installers Fire Protection Industries.

Testimony in the suit before Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. enters its seventh day today; the court was recessed yesterday because one member of the 11-women, two-man jury had to testify in a Frederick County civil case.

The suit, filed in January 1990 by Philadelphia attorney John F. Brown Jr.on behalf of Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. and Four Seasons, contendsthat negligence by the cable company, its wiring contractor, the underground sprinkler firm and the fire alarm installers led to the 1989blaze that destroyed the health club.

Since then, the club, ownedby Montgomery County businessman Melvyn L. Newmann and Four Seasons Director Kevin Bidelspach, has been rebuilt at a cost of nearly $1.6 million.

Central to the case is an underground electric cable supplying the club's fire sprinkler pump.

Four Seasons says the cable was severed by both the cable company and the underground sprinkler firm, rendering the system useless.

The company that installed the fire sprinkler pump, Fire Protection Industries, failed to detect anyproblems during an inspection of the system eight months before the fire, testimony says.

On Monday, Schaefer explained that, as a hired consultant to Fireman's Fund, he detected the wire in the weeks after the fire and determined where and how it was severed.

He demonstrated the use of several wire-detection devices, how they trace a wire's electron field, and how they can determine the length, path andstatus of underground cables.

Brown's direct examination is expected to last most of today as well. During today's testimony, Schaeferwill explain how he determined the cause and origin of the fire.

He will, according to opening arguments, show that the fire was an accidental one, and link the broken cable to the failed fire sprinkler system.

Defense attorneys are expected to chip away at that explanation, as they contend the fire was an arson and that the sprinkler system was intentionally disabled.

The State Fire Marshal's Office declared the fire an arson, but no arrests have been made.

The trial is expected to last at least two more weeks.

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