Port supervisor's death accidental

Medical examiner's office rules 3 months after incident

delay laid to co-workers' false account

September 29, 2006|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN REPORTER

After almost three months of investigation, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police said yesterday that a Maryland Port Administration maintenance supervisor who died under suspicious circumstances was fatally injured in an accidental fall.

The state medical examiner's office said the determination of the cause of death of Robert L. Benway Jr., 45, was delayed because two co-workers who were with him at the time of the June 26 incident initially gave a false account. Benway died of his injuries July 1.

The medical examiner determined that the co-workers' revised explanation was consistent with the 21-year state employee's injuries.

According to transportation authority police, the death was ruled an accident on the basis of the autopsy, physical and forensic evidence and the revised eyewitness account.

"The important thing in these cases is not to get it done quickly, but to get it done right," said Chief Gary W. McLhinney.

The police said they are continuing to investigate "possible illegal activity on the part of co-workers of Mr. Benway."

Richard Scher, a spokesman for the port administration, said the two men who were with Benway at the time of his death are no longer employed by the agency. Scher said their departures were voluntary.

Benway died at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center five days after the accident at Clinton Street Marine Terminal, a largely vacant MPA-owned warehouse, of massive injuries to the back of his head.

The circumstances of Benway's death raised suspicions in the mind of his widow, Linda Benway, 49, a fellow MPA employee. Instead of calling 911, one of his co-workers rushed Robert Benway to Bayview in his truck.

Police were not notified of the accident when it occurred, and an investigation began only after he died. And neither the MPA nor the police notified the media of the death before Linda Benway brought her concerns to The Sun in August.

At the time, she expressed doubt that the incident took place at the Clinton Street terminal, as first reported. But the investigation concluded the accident did occur in that building, though not necessarily at the location police were first told.

Benway's injuries were inconsistent with the original account that he fell from a ladder about 12 feet high that was bolted to a wall, according to the medical examiner's office.

"The original story didn't add up to anybody because the guys who were with him lied," an official with the medical examiner's office said.

Under further questioning, officials said, the co-workers changed their account and said Benway fell from a much higher extension ladder after his feet became tangled while he was pulling out wiring that apparently came loose more abruptly than he expected.

Linda Benway said she was told by port officials that the ladder and copper wiring were disposed of before the investigation began. Neither Scher nor the police would comment, saying the investigation is continuing.

Investigators suspect the wire was being removed from the building to be sold illegally, Linda Benway said. Police would not comment.

Benway said she is not satisfied with the explanation she has been given.

"They would have to prove that to me that Rob was doing something he wasn't supposed to be doing," she said.

But the medical examiner said there is now no question that Benway's death was accidental. Toxicological tests showed that he was not intoxicated or impaired by drugs.

The medical examiner's office also concluded that Benway would not have lived if his co-workers had called 911.

"This gentleman had nonsurvivable injuries - period," said the official, who asked to not be identified because of office policies. "His brain was not going to recover."

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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