|Posted on April 5, 2011 at 11:32 AM|
Death Exposes City's Decaying Wire System
by Shernay Williams
AFRO Staff Writer
As they embark on an endeavor to help thwart similar calamities, the family of Deanna Green – a 14-year-old who was electrocuted after touching a fence in Druid Hill Park in 2006 – is still searching for answers in their daughter’s demise. The father, Anthony “Bubba” Green said he is waiting for a judge to revive their case against the city.
The family reached a settlement with a private contractor that was found to have worked on the park’s electrical wiring near the time of Deana’s electrocution, but Baltimore City was dismissed from the case after claiming sovereign immunity in 2006.
Green says city officials withheld information that could have led to a more thorough investigation of his daughter’s death. “The city needs to pay for what has taken place, they ... misled us throughout the entire process,” he said.
During litigation, city officials denied accountability for the electrocution, claiming they were unaware of faulty electrical wiring in the park. They refused to hand over documentation of any work completed on the field, Green said.
Then came a breakthrough for the Greens in June 2008 – two years after Deanna's death –when, the day before her retirement, city solicitor Linda C. Barclay handed over work orders and invoices showing the Department of Public Works had contracted work for Druid Hill Park’s lighting system in 2003.
Subsequent documents revealed the city had contracted Douglas Electric and Lighting to patch up the park’s wires again in 2004, 2005 and just weeks before the accident.
Current city solicitor George Nielson says it’s the family’s “prerogative” to sue the city. “We think the judge was correct in dismissing the case. If they wish to bring the city back in, we will evaluate it but I don’t think we withheld information,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for information to be provided in increments. It’s nothing sinister about that.”
Jose Anderson, the Greens’ advising attorney, told the AFRO: “The city had one job—keep electricity away from where people can touch it and be killed by it.” Anderson’s daughter was Deanna’s best friend.
“It’s sad we have people running the city who don’t care about the people,” Mr. Green contended. “But we are going to do whatever we have to do to make the city understand that we were treated unfairly.”
Questions remain as to why the city seemingly forgot to repair the lethal electrical wiring and lighting system in the park where Deanna was killed.
According to a memo issued by the former director of Recreation and Parks two months after the death, the city had planned to overhaul the entire underground wiring in Druid Hill Park – which legal documents show was installed in the 1960s. A printed schedule indicated repairs would be complete by January 2007.
It is unclear if repairs were completed or even initiated at the park.
A representative for Recreation and Parks declined to comment after calls from the AFRO, citing ongoing litigation with the Greens.
Following a city council meeting, Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who represents Druid Hill Park’s district, said she hadn’t recently visited the area where Deanna died, so she didn’t know whether wiring had been repaired. “It’s a heartbreaking situation,” she said, adding that the family deserves an apology or a field dedicated in Deanna’s honor.
This week, mayor’s spokesman Ian Brennan said he wasn’t sure if the city routinely scans parks and city streets for dangerous wiring that could prompt electrocutions, but said the Department of Transportation recently purchased equipment to conduct checks.
He directed the AFRO to Transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes, who confirmed the city agency had purchased hand-held devices to check for contact voltage – electricity transmitted through public domains that are usually the result of eroding underground wires like those that killed Deanna.
In an e-mail, Barnes said Transportation “was in the process of contracting out this service.”
She added that BGE technicians scan the city for contact voltage on a bi-annual basis, but officials from the gas and electric company told the AFRO in a recent interview that they only conduct checks once a year – and they merely examine the light poles and man hole covers they own.
Brennan said Power Survey Company, a utility locator firm summoned by the Greens’ to inspect Baltimore’s public surfaces for contact voltage, withheld information they found from the city.
He said city officials received a list of 50 public areas around the declared “hot spots” for the stray electricity a month after Power Survey administered the checks. The majority were BGE managed, he added.
However, in a previous interview, Power Survey founder Tom Catanese said he had found close to 400 problem areas around the city.
“When the city finally got the list, we called BGE in short order and issued repairs,” Brennan said. “If you know of a problem and you don’t tell the city, it’s not going to help us fix it.”
Meanwhile, now five years after their daughter’s tragic death, the Green’s say they are “at peace” with their loss, but will continue to fight for safer streets and more answers in their case. “We don’t have Deanna, but we have her legacy and we will continue it,” said Mr. Green.