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Investigation continues on response to downed power line that killed man in KCK

Updated: 2013-06-21T03:38:47Z

By BRIAN BURNES

The Kansas City Star

Wyandotte County utility and public safety officials couldn’t explain Thursday why a downed power line that electrocuted a 27-year-old man in a park last weekend had gone unrepaired for more than 11 hours.

Dispatchers routed a 911 call to the Kansas City, Kan., Board of Public Utilities at 4:07 p.m. Saturday, and repair personnel at some point were dispatched to Rosedale Park, officials said during a news conference at the utility’s headquarters.

But it remained unclear Thursday why that crew apparently never reached the park. That investigation continues, said Bill Johnson, manager of BPU electric operations and technology.

“The danger and the risk of downed power lines to our community is something we always take very seriously as a utility,” Johnson said. “It is unfortunate that we did not respond in a time frame that could have possibly avoided this incident from happening in Rosedale Park. Our hearts and prayers go out to the family.”

The downed line electrocuted Nicholas Moeder of Shawnee about 3:20 a.m Sunday as he played disc golf in the dark with a friend.

Johnson confirmed that the utility received its first call about the line shortly after a storm hit Wyandotte County about 3:45 p.m. Saturday.

“After verifying records at BPU, the initial call was indeed placed to the 911 center, and it was quickly and immediately transferred to the BPU,” he said.

A volunteer serving at a disc golf tournament at Rosedale Park on Saturday has said he called 911 at 4 p.m. The tournament’s director, after discovering later in the day that the downed power line had not been addressed, said he attempted to call BPU three times after 10 p.m. and eventually left a voice message.

BPU officials still are evaluating everything that led up to and followed the incident, Johnson said, “and have directed staff to be proactive and thoroughly examine all of our existing procedures and protocols used on this day.”

The utility received numerous calls from customers who lost service as the storm blew through, packing wind gusts of up to 70 mph and dumping heavy rain, Johnson said. Shifting into storm mode, the utility called in crews that worked overtime Saturday into Sunday. They responded to several reports of downed power lines and worked to restore service to approximately 2,300 customers, he said.

The Kansas City, Kan., Police Department’s 911 call center logged a call at 3:22 a.m. Sunday reporting that an individual had been electrocuted by a downed power line. Capt. Robert Angell said staff members on Thursday still were reviewing 911 calls received Saturday afternoon and evening.

Lt. Kelli Bailiff of the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department, which provides law enforcement coverage at the county’s parks, said her department’s investigation continues as well.

Services were held Thursday for Moeder, a former Shawnee Mission North High School football player.

“We recognize this is a very difficult time for the family, and words are totally inadequate to express our feelings,” said David Mehlhaff, BPU communications person, “but please know that our thoughts and prayers are with the victim and his family.”

The utility will continue to evaluate its response procedures, he said.

“The public needs to know that we have measures in place that will prevent, as much as possible, another tragedy like this from happening again,” he said. “The safety of our citizens is our top priority.

“We appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to review the timeline of events as they occurred, from the initial call to the 911 dispatch center to the repairing of the downed line.”

Normally the utility seeks to restore service lost during storms within 24 hours, Mehlhaff said. But there is no estimated amount of time for repairing downed power lines, he said, given the variables involved in each report, including location.

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

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