BGE worker killed, 2nd hurt in crash on La. repair trip

September 27, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,sun reporter

A Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. worker died and another was injured yesterday in an accident on a Louisiana interstate as they rode in a convoy of utility trucks to assist in repairs in the wake of Hurricane Rita.

Killed in the accident on Interstate 55, a few miles south of the Mississippi border in Tangipahoa Parish, was 38-year-old Wilson "Skip" Strong Jr. of Bel Air, Louisiana State Police said.

Strong, an employee of BGE for 18 years and Bel Air volunteer fire official, was married to Tina Kuhn Strong and the father of an infant daughter named Olivia, stunned friends said yesterday evening.

An overhead crew leader for BGE, he had been sent Saturday to the region already devastated by Hurricane Katrina and being inundated by a second hurricane, Rita, company officials said.

Police said Strong was a passenger in a southbound truck driven by co-worker Robert W. Graf, a 32-year-old overhead lineman from White Marsh who was slightly injured.

About 10:15 a.m., police said, Graf lost control of the vehicle while trying to avoid a light base in the roadway. The vehicle veered into the median, back into the southbound lanes and off the interstate, hitting a tree and flipping onto its right side.

Strong, who was not wearing a seat belt, was partly thrown from the truck and was trapped under the vehicle when it rolled over, state police said.

Fellow volunteer firefighters who gathered to grieve at the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company station yesterday said they heard that a large light fixture fell loose from a truck ahead of the vehicle in the BGE convoy, but that could not be confirmed by police last night.

Since late last month, more than 350 BGE employees and contractors have joined in the hurricane relief effort.

Strong was second assistant chief of the Bel Air fire company, which has about 150 members. He was fondly remembered as a plain-speaking man who lived up to his last name, and was seldom seen without his trademark wad of tobacco, coffee and Rolaids.

A Bel Air native, Strong was a graduate of Fallston High School, friends said.

Many recalled seeing him a week ago at one of the volunteer company's regular drills.

"Skip treated everyone like family," said fire company spokesman Rich Gardiner. "We use the word `brother' here, but he really was like a brother to everyone."

Rick Davis, 31, worked with Strong at BGE and the Bel Air fire station, where Strong spent many days, nights, holidays and weekends. "We cut people out of cars together," Davis said tearfully. "We put people in body bags together. There's nothing we didn't do together, and now he's not even here to say goodbye."

A younger member of the company, Dave Smith, 20, said, "The biggest compliment I ever got was when Skip said, `Good job.'"

BGE President Kenneth W. DeFontes Jr. said in a statement, "We were extremely grateful when all our employees who responded to Hurricane Katrina returned home safely, but now, with Hurricane Rita, we are reminded of the very real dangers that exist with such assignments.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of both men." he said. "We will do all we can to help them through this most difficult time."

Strong had a talent for answering signals and calls for help, fellow firefighters said. During his years at BGE, he had been on similar emergency assignments in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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