Days after a teen's electrocution, officials dispute responsibility

Despite death, city says most ball fields are safe

May 10, 2006|By LYNN ANDERSON | LYNN ANDERSON,SUN REPORTER

Four days later, orange snow fencing blocked a ball field in Druid Hill Park and public officials couldn't agree on which agency was responsible for the electrocution of a 14-year-old Randallstown girl Friday.

While city officials announced yesterday that inspections of lighted ball fields across Baltimore did not reveal any additional problems, they remained unable to explain what electrified the fence touched by Deanna Green, so they kept that baseball diamond closed pending further investigation.

Early yesterday, Department of Recreation and Parks officials had promised to hold an afternoon news conference to update their findings, but later in the day they abruptly canceled it because they said they had no further information.

"It's just an unfortunate thing that we scheduled it," said city parks director Connie A. Brown.

Nevertheless, Brown said it is safe for city residents to use all public ball fields - except the one at Druid Hill Park. He defended electrical maintenance at city parks and called the death of Deanna Green an "unfortunate aberration."

"I am a father and a grandfather, and I can't imagine her family's grief," Brown said. "But it is my opinion that the [park] system is safe."

Still, it was unclear last night exactly who maintains underground electrical cables at city parks.

Witnesses said they saw the girl put her foot against a metal fence running along Field No. 8 about 8 p.m. Friday. They said she grabbed hold of a second fence and then fell to the ground unconscious. The eighth-grader at Deer Park Middle Magnet School in Baltimore County was pronounced dead at Sinai Hospital later that night.

In the days since the incident, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials have said a preliminary investigation shows that none of their equipment was involved. Yesterday, BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy issued a similar statement but added that BGE officials had been in touch with the Maryland Public Service Commission and that a full account of the incident would be submitted to the regulatory agency within 30 days.

Leif Dormsjo, chief of staff at the city's Department of Transportation, said that electricians with his agency have dug out a section of underground electrical cable near the area where Deanna Green was standing before she fell to the ground. He said the cable was handed over to a safety investigator with the parks department for further study.

A spokeswoman for the park system, Kia McLeod, said the department has no electricians on staff but it "collaborates" with BGE and several other city agencies to maintain electric wires, cables, light poles and other equipment.

However, officials with BGE and the city departments of transportation and public works offered conflicting information.

Foy said BGE is responsible for equipment that leads to the meter at the ball field but nothing beyond that.

A spokesman for city public works said his agency does electrical work for park buildings, including recreation centers, but not ball fields.

And Dormsjo said that while his staff of electricians handles "simple" repair jobs on light towers and underground cables, any "major" maintenance work would be contracted out by the parks department.

"That's something they would handle through capital projects," Dormsjo said.

He said the parks department often relies on transportation electricians when incidents occur at night or on weekends. "We are a 24-hour operation and we can put resources at their disposal at a moment's notice," he said.

When a reporter questioned Brown about major underground repair work, he could not offer details about whether it is handled by city employees or outside contractors.

"As far as I know, I would go to them," Brown said, referring to transportation department electricians. "How they do it - they'd have to give you the specifics."

Elected officials said they are willing to wait for Brown to complete his investigation but added that they need greater reassurance that parks are safe.

"They need to give some facts about that," said 4th District Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., whose 15-year-old son plays in a baseball league that uses city parks. "They need to tell us that the parks are safe. Those are the kinds of things people want to hear and know."

Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who represents the 7th District, which includes Druid Hill Park, said she, too, is eager for answers, but added that she wants to make sure the investigation into the death is thorough. "I don't want any rushed answers," Conaway said. "I want good answers."

Deanna Green's family declined to comment yesterday. The teen-ager was playing for a softball team associated with her church, Colonial Baptist of Randallstown, when she was killed. Her church participates in a co-ed softball league that consists of about 16 different church groups. The league canceled all games last weekend after her death.

Over the past 18 months, the city has worked to upgrade portions of its electrical system on city streets.

Officials with the city's transportation agency responded to public outcry over the electrocution of a dog named Roy in December 2004. The dog was killed when it stepped on an electrified metal utility box cover in Charles Village. In the aftermath of the incident, city officials and others worried that a person might also step on one of the box covers.

Dormsjo said yesterday that an inspection of older sections of the city's electrical grid had resulted in the modernization of some portions. He said he believed the work had corrected the problem with the electrified box covers.

lynn.anderson@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.