Construction accident puzzles investigators

December 14, 1993|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Staff Writer

Howard County fire and rescue officials say they're perplexed by the home construction accident that killed a 23-year-old Elkridge man on Saturday.

David Mark Kohl, of the 4600 block of New Cut Road, died when a steal beam from his brother's Elkridge house collapsed and struck him in the head early Saturday evening as he and six other do-it-yourselfers worked to build a basement under the modular home.

Lt. Michael Gearhart, of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, said Mr. Kohl's death "was instant as soon as the house shifted."

Exactly what made the 20-ton house fall is unclear. Perhaps it was the cold, 40-mph northwest wind that sent trash cans, park benches and other objects flying on Saturday afternoon. Maybe it was misplaced or unsupported cribbing, emergency officials said.

"It's hard to speculate," said Sgt. Robert Wiseman, of the county fire and rescue department. "It could have been a combination of things. We're not sure."

Mr. Kohl started work on his brother John's one-level home in the 6500 block of Huntshire Road with seven other men -- a mix of family and friends -- about 10 a.m. Saturday morning. By 5 p.m., the men had lifted the home on jacks and were preparing to build a basement under the structure in the 33-degree weather.

Emergency workers said one of the jacks shifted and the house went crashing down on top of Mr. Kohl, who was kneeling or sitting at the time. The other workmen were saved because they were lying flat, safeguarded by cribbing that supported the house.

"It was a tragedy of human life," Lieutenant Gearhart said. "It's one of the things you don't want to see and that you never get used to."

A volunteer department chaplain was called out to comfort family XTC members who stood shocked and helpless as Mr. Kohl lay dead beneath the house.

By 11:15 p.m., emergency workers removed Mr. Kohl's body using heavy duty, compressed air bags to lift the house.

"We had to do what we could at that point so they could get on with their life," Lieutenant Gearhart said. The Kohl family declined to comment at their Ellicott City home yesterday.

County police are continuing their inquiry, but Maryland Occupational Safety and Health officials will not investigate the accident because the work was being done by amateurs, rather than by a company that would be subject to the state's work-safety regulations.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered for Mr. Kohl tomorrow morning at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Ellicott City.

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