Queen Anne/Magnolia News~
Although it has been nearly two weeks since Lisa McKibbin’s dog Sammy, a German shorthair pointer, was fatally electrocuted while walking along Queen Anne Avenue North, questions still loom over where exactly the fault lies.
On Thanksgiving Day, McKibbin took Sammy out for a daily walk around her neighborhood.
“We came up to Queen Anne Avenue, where I saw a woman, a child and another big dog heading toward us,” explained McKibbin. “I wasn’t sure if this dog was friendly, so I pulled Sammy close to me and stepped over two feet so that we could all pass without incident.”
As McKibbin moved over, her dog stepped on a metal utility cover, was electrocuted and within minutes died.
According to Seattle City Light (SCL) Director of Communications Suzanne Hartman, the electrocution was a result of wires that were not grounded correctly.
“The decorative lampposts that are along Queen Anne Avenue are privately owned and were installed in 2006,” said Hartman. “The plastic covering around the wires, at some point over the course of time, rubbed off exposing the live wire. Had they been properly grounded, once that wire became live it would have created a short in the lamppost and the electricity would have automatically been cut.”
McKibbin believes her dog was electrocuted due to contact voltage.
“SCL is telling us that there was a pinched wire in one of the streetlights and all four streetlights in front of the Gilbert Building were not properly grounded,” McKibbin said. “I have requested a copy of the investigation report, but have not received it. We have discovered that there are three entities involved, SCL, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and a private contractor that installed the streetlights.”
Typically after any construction is done an inspection is called for by those responsible before work can be considered completed.
“That specific area is on what is considered a ‘street right of way’ which is part of SDOT or the city of Seattle,” said Hartman. “After inspection, SDOT would have contacted us and we would have been given the OK to energize those lights.”
At the monthly Queen Anne Community Council (QACC) meeting last Wednesday, Hartman answered questions and addressed concerns of the local community.
McKibbin was also present at the meeting and when asked later if she felt SCL honestly answered her questions surrounding what happened, “I must be honest,” she replied. “No, in light of the equivocation by Hartman, her assertion that Sammy did not die from contact voltage and not expressly committing to inspect other areas of the city for contact voltage problems.
“We were also verbally informed at the meeting that the amount of voltage Sammy came in contact with was 90 volts but have no idea of the amperage.”
Queen Anne resident Phil Irwin also attended the QACC meeting and had this to say, “Hartman gave a thorough description of the cause of the problem which was improper grounding by a subcontractor during the construction of the Gilbert Apartments and most of that block about six years ago. This improper grounding was not caught by SDOT inspectors who bought off on the construction/wiring of the four unique lampposts in the front of the block.
“Because SCL has to change the bulbs by removing the lamp post head, a wearing down of the wires at the lamp post light occurred and they suspect this happened a week or so before the incident. SCL also informed us that they are going to check with SDOT to affirm this contractor is not being used by the city of Seattle.”
Irwin went on to say that he felt Hartman extended her sincere regret and sorrow but said the company’s legal department would deal with her financial matters because it was not her jurisdiction.
The QACC went on to discuss how to effectively inform the community that there is no longer a danger of electrocution as they have been assured by SCL that proper grounding is in place.
McKibbin doesn’t agree though. She had this to say about the incident, “We want the community to be aware of the possible dangers, not fearful, just aware, and don’t believe it was a freak accident. A child could have been walking down the street, slipped on the ice, and reached out to the street light for support. The city of Seattle should ensure that proper procedures exist to test and verify the installation of structures before energizing them, according to industry standards.
“They should also have procedures in place to routinely inspect for any potential faults, there are detection devices and methods to accomplish this.”
According to a website, powerqualitytesting.com, the company conducts voltage surveys and in one such test found that one in every 337 light poles is electrically unsafe.
The company states, “These light standards present a shock or electrocution hazard to humans or animals that may make intentional or accidental contact. Incorrectly referred to as stray voltage, in reality these energized poles that have electrical faults may originate from any number of causes.”
The top two causes listed where, pinched electrical wires during initial installation or routine maintenance and damaged or degraded installation from age, de-icing salts and rodents.
McKibbin has filed a claim with the city of Seattle and has retained Bellingham Attorney Adam Karp, who specializes in animal law.
Queen Anne News contacted Karp to confirm if a complaint has been filed and if so, who was named in the lawsuit.
Attempts were made also to contact representatives of SDOT regarding comments about an inspection.
As of the date of this publication, no responses have been received.