Con Ed responds to electrocution death

By Albert Amateau

In response to the tragic death of Jodie Lane who was electrocuted on Jan 16 after coming in contact with an electric junction box cover on an East Village street, Community Board 3 this week urged Con Edison to develop a safety plan and report back to the board.

David Gmach, director of Manhattan public affairs for Con Edison, told the community board on Tues. Jan. 27 that the power company was doing a complete review of the 250,000 junction boxes in New York City and Westchester County.

“The death of Jodie Lane was a tragic accident,” said Gmach. “We’re taking this very seriously and we’re putting considerable manpower into a thorough review,” he added. Gmach said Con Edison would return to C.B.3 to report on the investigation but he was not able to say when.

In the C.B.3 district between 14th St. and Brooklyn Bridge from Bowery and Baxter St. to the East River, there are 650 junction boxes in the streets, said Gunnar Hellekson, of E. Seventh St., who reported on the utility company’s meeting last week with the board public safety committee. “Con Ed said they were perfectly safe but they haven’t told us what went wrong and what they’re going to do in the future,” said Hellekson.

While the C.B. 3 resolution suggested that salt used to melt snow was believed to contribute to the cable corrosion that electrified the fatal junction box on E. 11th St. just east of First Ave., a representative of the Utility Workers Union who appeared at the board meeting, disputed the point.

“Salt was not the reason Ms. Lane died,” said Mark Williams, the union representative. “Cable covering was cracked because of Con Ed’s lack of maintenance,” he charged. In addition, Williams contended that the fatal service box was too small and crowded, pushing cables up to the cover and electrifying it. Lack of a device known as a limiter in the box, which acts as a fuse, was another factor in the accident, said Williams. He also contended that Con Edison was using untrained clerical staff and inadequate methods to test manholes for potential danger.

Williams made the remarks before Gmach arrived at the meeting, but he later asked the Con Edison executive a direct question about salt. Gmach replied that Con Edison has not attributed salt use to the accident on E. 11th St.

“We are all squeezed into limited space in the streets,” said Gmach in response to the suggestion that electrical junction boxes should be larger and less crowded, noting that city water and sewer mains along with telephone lines share the infrastructure with the electric distribution system.

“It’s a tight situation,” Gmach said, but he insisted that people should feel safe. Gmach acknowledged, however, that the death of a carriage horse was attributed to electrocution a few years ago and at least three dogs were electrocuted at the same time. Lane’s two dogs were injured in the Jan. 16 accident.

Gmach said that last year Con Edison received about 100 complaints about people or dogs receiving electric shocks from street equipment, but the reports have increased enormously in the two weeks since the accident.

—Albert Amateau

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