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KCK utility investigating power line death

Updated: 2013-06-18T14:49:23Z

By BRIAN BURNES

The Kansas City Star

Board of Public Utilities officials are investigating why a downed power line remained unattended for more than 11 hours before it killed a 27-year-old Shawnee man early Sunday.

The utility has launched an internal investigation as to when it first was notified that a strong Saturday afternoon storm knocked down the power line at Rosedale Park in Kansas City, Kan.

A volunteer working at a disc golf tournament at the park said he called 911 about the power line at 4 p.m. Saturday. Tournament officials checked the course later in the day, noticed the line remained down and called the BPU directly three times just after 10 p.m. — more than five hours before the electrocution.

“We are trying to determine when those calls were received, who received them and who they were referred to,” said David Mehlhaff, chief communications officer of BPU. “It is a tragedy.”

Members of the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office and the Unified Government are assisting the investigation, he said.

Family members are mourning the death of Nicholas Moeder, a former Shawnee Mission North High School football player who brought smiles to everyone he knew, said his aunt, Sarah Morgan.

He died while playing disc golf with a friend about 3:20 a.m., according to the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office.

“He was fun-loving and full of life, and loved his family and his innumerable friends,” Morgan said.

“It is a tragic loss to our family, the community and his friends.”

Moeder was not a member of the Kansas City Flying Disc Club, which coordinates activities for enthusiasts who enjoy the outdoor sport that mimics golf but is played by hurling plastic discs into metal-basket “holes.”

The club served as host organization this weekend of the Grip Equipment Kansas City Wide Open, which attracted about 300 players from around the country and the world. Tournament play took place at several Kansas City area parks.

When the high winds arrived at Rosedale Park late Saturday afternoon, tournament organizers moved some players to a picnic shelter while others headed to their cars, said Rick Rothstein, a longtime disc club officer. Video posted on a Facebook page devoted to the tournament depicted high water in the park’s parking lot.

“Trees were bending over and touching the ground,” said Jeff Campbell, who posted the video as well as a photograph that showed a power line touching the grass.

Adam Abernathy, a disc club tournament volunteer, said he saw the line fall just before 4 p.m.

“I saw a big flash,” he said. “I saw the line coming down and it started arcing on the ground.”

Abernathy said he called 911.

“They transferred me to the fire department, and they said they would have someone come out.”

If not for the downed wire, tournament activity would have resumed after the rain stopped, as activity did at Swope and Water Works parks where rain also interrupted play, Rothstein said.

But because of the downed line, players left Rosedale Park on Saturday afternoon expecting to finish the suspended rounds Sunday.

“We had about six holes left,” Campbell said. Word was passed from player to player that the tournament would resume at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, he said.

“We were figuring that the wire would have been resolved,” Rothstein said.

But at 9:50 p.m. Saturday, tournament officials noted that the power line was still down, Rothstein said.

Jack Lowe, tournament director, called the the BPU at 10:01 p.m., 10:04 p.m. and 10:07 p.m. and left one voice message about the downed line, Rothstein said.

When Campbell arrived at Rosedale Park about 6:30 a.m. Sunday, he said, he and many other players discovered much of the course restricted by authorities investigating the accident.

“A live wire down in a public park was something that I believed should have been prioritized,” Campbell said. “That could have been any one of us.”

Though night disc golf has been played for years with discs that glow in the dark, night play has grown more popular with the recent introduction of LED lights that can be affixed to discs, said Rothstein, who operates a retail disc golf store at 509 E. 18th St.

“During this time of year, there are a lot of people who play at night,” Campbell said. “If you know the course, you know where the basket is. That’s part of the fun.”

Rosedale Park closes at midnight seven days a week, a Wyandotte County Parks and Recreation spokeswoman said.

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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