PSC adopts new rules intended to prevent accidental electrocutions

Regulations dedicated to Deanna Camille Green, who was killed in Druid Hill Park in 2006

October 28, 2011|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

During an emotional hearing Friday, the Maryland Public Service Commission adopted new regulations intended to prevent accidental electrocutions like the one that killed 14-year-old Deanna Green at a church softball game in Druid Hill Park more than five years ago.

The requirements will force state electric companies to find — and eliminate — dangerous "contact voltage" in public objects that can transmit electricity, such as streetlights, traffic signals and playground equipment.

Deanna was killed in May 2006 by voltage that traveled through her body as she stretched on a ball field, unknowingly bracing her foot against one electrified fence as her hand reached toward another, closing a deadly circuit.

"We deeply appreciate what you've done to bring these issues to light," PSC Chairman Douglas R.M. Nazarian said to Deanna's parents, who fought for the changes.

"This may be a first step of many," Nazarian said, his voice breaking. "But the important thing is to get this started."

Electric companies had complained about the cost of implementing the rules, expected to run about $8 million per year, at a hearing in July. But on Friday, a commissioner brushed off the financial concerns, which will likely affect consumers, saying that people's lives are at stake.

The others joined him in unanimously passing the measures — a move that was met with tears, applause and shouts of "amen" and hallelujah" from onlookers, including Deanna's parents.

Nancy Arrington Green and Anthony "Bubba" Green, a former Baltimore Colts lineman, collapsed into each other's arms. They've been on a quest to save others from their daughter's fate and get answers about her death since the day she died, enduring frequent disappointment along the way.

Just hours before the PSC hearing, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge heard their plea to reopen a lawsuit that the Greens had filed against the city, claiming it was responsible for Deanna's electrocution.

"It's in the interest of justice," their attorney, William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr. told the judge, saying that the family had new information and arguments to show the city's liability.

Baltimore attorney Matthew Nayden disputed the claim, however, standing behind a 2010 court ruling that found the city immune from such lawsuits. "We've been sitting here thinking the case is over," Nayden said.

The Greens originally filed the civil suit against the city, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and electrical repair firm Douglas Electric and Lighting, or DEL. The cases against BGE and Baltimore were dismissed last year, and a confidential settlement was reached with DEL, which had done repair work near the electrified fences.

The family contends that the city's failure to maintain underground cables and its general knowledge of their deterioration through repair records — which the Greens discovered after the city was dismissed as a defendant — make the municipality liable.

The city has "a duty to inspect and a duty to maintain, and they were on actual notice that this stuff was deteriorating," Murphy said.

Judge John Philip Miller closed the hearing shortly after noon, saying he will consider the arguments and rule later, leaving the family free to attend the PSC hearing, which was scheduled for 1 p.m.

It was a packed house inside the commission's hearing room, with more than a dozen speakers signed up. Many said only a few words, while others went on at length. One woman brought photos of exposed wires in light poles throughout the city, including the park where Deanna was killed, which galled her family.

We need to "take care of business once and for all," said Gale Arrington, Deanna's aunt.

The Greens and others called for regulations that would have required multiple surveys throughout the state — in areas rich and poor — using mobile technology.

Beverly Sikora, a representative from BGE, noted that the company already uses a mobile system, but she complained that only one company offered the technology and said they were difficult to negotiate with.

"At the end of the day, what we pay is what our customers pay," Sikora said, claiming that BGE is "at the mercy" of the mobile technology provider.

Commissioners urged her to maintain the relationship while continuing to look for alternative providers.

The rules passed were less stringent than the Greens and their supporters would have liked, however.

"If we make changes today, we lose time, we lose a lot of time," Nazarian, the commission chairman, said, explaining that substantive amendments would begin the approval process again and set back the timeline by months.

The new rules require electric companies to file with the commission a map of "contact voltage risk zones," and a "voltage survey plan" for approval. They then have one year to survey the risk zones and three years to survey everything else in their purview that can conduct electricity. If any contact voltage is discovered, they must take corrective action.

One change the commission said it would consider, however, was adding Deanna's name to the rule. Right now, it reads "In Memory of" the teenager, while her mother prefers it be officially named the "Deanna Camille Green rule."

"This is Deanna's footmark on this earth," said Nancy Arrington Green. "And I want it to stay there."

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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