Seattle City Light has issued a release in response to the tragic death of Sam, a neighborhood dog who was electrocuted and passed away after stepping onto a metal plate on Queen Anne Ave N on Thanksgiving while on a walk with his owner.
Sammy’s owner and Queen Anne resident Lisa McKibbin and her mother Nancy Bostdorff were heartbroken over the ordeal, and have taken to spreading awareness about stray voltage in city streets in the hopes of preventing future accidents involving pets, children, and adults.
In an open letter from Seattle City Light released today Superintendent Jorge Carrasco said the following:
On Thanksgiving, a dog was electrocuted on Queen Anne Avenue when it came into contact with a metal plate covering some electrical wires for four streetlights. This was a tragic incident and devastating for the family that owned the dog. We are truly sorry for their loss of a beloved family member. I want to assure the public that as soon as City Light was made aware of the situation, we responded by de-energizing the electrical service.
Our crews investigated the cause. We discovered that the original installation in 2006 did not include proper grounding of the four lights. Our crews have made the necessary repairs to all these lights and tested for any potential electrical charges. There is no electrical charge to any of the lights or groundcover plates. All the streetlights are functioning.
We want the public to be assured that this was an isolated incident. We are researching our records to determine whether there are similar lights elsewhere in our system. If we find there are, they will be inspected and any necessary repairs will be made immediately.
Despite word from City Light that repairs have been made to insure the safety of this particular groundcover plate, for Lisa and Nancy this is hardly enough.
“For four years these lights have not been grounded! Doesn’t anyone know the ABCs of electricity?” Nancy wrote to QueenAnneView.
Since we first reported the story on Saturday, the comments have erupted with condolences for Lisa and Nancy, and stories from fellow community members and pet owners who have experienced similar incidences in Queen Anne and elsewhere.
“I used to live back East, and every winter there were certain street corners that every dog seemed to avoid. My 100 pound beast would buck and fight if I tried to go near it. At first I thought he was just being stubborn, but about a week after his strange behavior, a dog in DC died from electrocution on the same corner. I learned to trust my dog,” Dana wrote.
Stories of these types of accidents are, unfortunately, nothing new. In January 2004 a 30-year-old woman in New York City died after stepping on a metal plate that had been electrified by a faulty underground cable. Her father took to fighting the hazard that took her life. Read that story in the New York Times archives here.
And here in Seattle the incidences, though not as horrifying as Sammy’s story, are pouring in. One reader, in fact, says their dog was shocked at the same site.
“It turns out our Labrador was once shocked on that same block. She yelped and moved, and my husband tried to check for stray voltage, not sure what had happened, but couldn’t tell what the problem was. Now we know for sure what happened,” Neens wrote.
“The day before Thanksgiving my oldest son (30) and his friend were walking my dog in West Seattle when he stepped on the same type plate and started writhing and yelping. He fell over and my son thought he had stepped on something sharp, possibly even been scared by the cold metal on his paw. After a few moments our cocker spaniel, Max, was able to stand and they brought him home. Since this, he has been limping when he walks a great deal and is very timid when he goes for walks. After seeing the news story tonight, we knew what had made Max fall over and act so strangely,” Sue Wilhelm wrote. “I applaud you for getting the word out about this “unseen” danger that we all come upon every day on our city streets. What a tragic way to be educated though. I shudder at the thought of this happening to any other person or pet.”
Lisa doesn’t think Seattle City Light’s response is enough either. “I don’t think Sam’s incident was “an isolated incident” as described by SCL,” Lisa says. “I still attribute his death to contact voltage which is defined as:
Contact voltage is caused by power system fault current as it flows through the impedance of available fault current pathways. The voltage we are trying to define (i.e. contact voltage) is only present when a power system fault exists (e.g. compromised insulation). The fault may be a very high impedance fault with very little fault current actually flowing, but it is still a fault, and still capable of creating measurable voltage between conductive surfaces that people or their animals may contact. This is true regardless of the type of power system (e.g. grounded, un-grounded, etc.). Clearly both the level of contact voltage and the amount of fault current will change when a person or animal makes contact, but this guide should be about the detection, evaluation, and mitigation necessary to avoid a potentially lethal exposure.
Lisa says she plans to continue her efforts to bring awareness, ensure public safety, and work “very hard to see that this type of tragedy will not happen again.”
“I have been receiving blog entires from people who say their dogs have received shocks from other parts of the city. John, owner of Oslo’s, now believes his dog was electriaclly shocked just one day prior to Sammy’s death. Oslo thankfully didn’t have the same fate, but was still affected. John showed me his boots, after stepping on the sidewalk to pick up Oslo after he was convulsing and screeching, the heel is completely shot, rubber sole has been melted and cracked! Oslo was about 25 ft from where Sam died, after what is now believed to be electric shock. John had no idea, much like me, this is why I need to spread this awareness and not fear, just awareness.”
A representative from Seattle City Light will be at the Queen Anne Community Council meeting tonight to discuss this tragedy further with the community. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the McClure Middle School cafeteria. Take a look at the agenda here.