Shock kills 2 painters working on apartments Aluminum ladder hits Roland Park power line

November 04, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Two painters working outside a Roland Park apartment building were electrocuted yesterday when their aluminum ladder hit a power line, causing a deadly surge that sent thousands of volts through their bodies.

The morning accident injured two other workers, one of them critically, and knocked out power to The Tuscany, a four-story co-op on Stony Run Lane.

The electrical short made a noise loud enough to startle people a block away. The current singed the bottom rungs of the ladder, burned a metal gutter at the top of the four-story building and set leaves on the ground on fire.

Fire officials said the men, who were 40 and 55 years old, burned to death. Police withheld the identities of the four victims, saying they were trying to locate relatives of one of the deceased. They worked for Wertz Painting Contractors in Hamilton.

Gerard Zeller, who owns a landscaping company working in the area, said he saw sparks fly from the 7,600-volt power line and glanced at the workers.

"The leaves around them had all caught fire," he said. "Two guys were lying there dead and a third man ran around the building looking dazed and confused. It's sad. It's not every day you see someone burn to death."

More than two dozen firefighters rushed to the apartment building, along with 20 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. workers, arson investigators and homicide detectives. A BGE spokeswoman, Darcel Guy, questioned why the workers did not call them to shut down the power before they started work.

"We advise anyone who is going to be working in close proximity to power lines to call us and have the service disconnected," Guy said. The ladder struck a feeder line that carries enough power to service the apartment building.

Employees at Wertz refused to comment yesterday. A woman who answered the phone last night, but declined to give her name, said she "had no idea" why the painters did not call BGE. Apartment managers also could not be reached yesterday.

The Tuscany is between West Cold Spring Lane and University Parkway adjacent to Stony Run Park. The accident occurred behind the large four-story brick building, close to Linkwood Road.

The painters were trying to set up the ladder on a wet embankment when they hit a two-story- high power line about two feet from the building.

Police said that at least three of the workers were grabbing the ladder when it hit the power line. They said one of the injured or dead painters might have been shocked when he rushed to help his colleague and touched the body.

The accident short-circuited a transformer, which automatically shut down power in the area. But firefighters said the scene remained dangerous for quite some time.

"Your first impulse is to rush right up to help the people," said one firefighter. "But you do that and you can get electrocuted, too. When we pulled up, there were sparks flying all over the place."

Paramedics rushed one of the injured workers to the burn unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where he was in critical condition last night. Police said the other worker was slightly shocked and suffered chest pains. He was in serious condition at Sinai Hospital.

Kathleen Buffington, who lives a block away from the apartment building, said she heard a loud noise and rushed outside. "It sounded like a bang," she said. "Then I saw all these ambulances."

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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