Risks of shock widespread, expert says


POSTED: Friday, February 20, 2009

The electrocution of a man in the McCully area is a rare occurrence in Hawaii but is the kind of accident that has occurred across the United States and Canada, according to an electrical testing company in Everett, Wash.

;[Preview] City Street Light Electrocutes Pedestrian

42-year-old Michael Perron, Jr. died Wednesday night after touching a metal light pole sending an electrical current through his body.

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“;The scenario is almost identical no matter what city this happens in,”; said Mark Voigtsberger, vice president of operations at Power Quality Testing LLC of Everett, Wash. “;If somebody gets shocked or electrocuted, the city doesn't know how to react. It's not that they're covering up anything; it's just that it doesn't happen very often.”;

A police and city department investigation has been launched into whether a 42-year-old man died Wednesday night by electrocution on city equipment.

Michael Perron Jr. was seen standing on the iron cover of an electrical junction box along a sidewalk near University Avenue and Kapiolani Boulevard.

A witness account to police said Perron received an electrical shock.

An ambulance crew responded to the call at about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, said Emergency Medical Services spokesman Bryan Cheplic.

Perron, who was on the makai side of Kapiolani about 30 yards Ewa of University, was touching a metal light pole along the sidewalk when he stepped on the cover of the electrical junction box and received an electrical shock, according to a witness account given to police.

The box appeared to be the source of electricity for the street light.

Insulation on one of the power cables under the cover had apparently been worn away, exposing a wire, according to a source familiar with the incident who requested anonymity.

The exposed wire might have touched the metal cover that Perron was standing on. When he touched the metal light pole, an electrical current might have run through him, said the source, who was not authorized to speak about the investigation.

Perron was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said. Police have classified the case as an unattended death and are continuing the investigation. Foul play is not suspected.

A cause of death was unavailable after an autopsy, said the city Medical Examiner's Office, pending further lab investigations that could last weeks.

The junction box and the light pole belong to the city. City Managing Director Kirk Caldwell expressed condolences to Perron's family.

“;The Department of Facility Maintenance is investigating the incident, and we are awaiting the results of the additional studies to be performed by the Medical Examiner,”; Caldwell said.

Power Quality Testing has documented about 200 electrocution cases in the U.S. and Canada in the past 20 years, Voigtsberger said.

The 2004 electrocution death of a Columbia University student in New York City led to a citywide inspection of electrical equipment. It later revealed more than 1,200 areas where the public was exposed to stray voltage on city streets.

Consolidated Edison, the utility company there, paid a $6.2 million settlement to the woman's family. Voigtsberger said Massachusetts also has implemented safety rules after similar incidents.

In Tucson, Ariz., an 8-year-old boy playing baseball at a field was electrocuted after he stepped on a metal plate, according to Arizona media reports.

Voigtsberger said Perron's death is the first instance he has heard of in Hawaii that might be related to stray voltage. He said Florida has had more than 20 deaths.

Insulation on wiring can be worn away due to many factors, including how much foot and vehicle traffic is in the area, Voigtsberger said. His company tests utility and municipal lighting systems to look for electrocution hazards.

“;If an intersection with a junction box is busy, it will wear down,”; he said. “;That could literally happen in a period of weeks or days, depending on how much traffic is over it.”;