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Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health

Report of Investigation

Surface Nonmetal Mine

Fatal Electrical Accident
September 7, 1999

Pike Electric, Incorporated
Mount Airy, Surry County, North Carolina
Contractor I.D. 3HH
Bessemer City Quarry
Martin Marietta Aggregates
Charlotte, Gaston County, North Carolina
Mine I.D. 31-01105

Accident Investigators

Walter E. Turner
Supervisory Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Terry A. Scott
Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Stephen B. Dubina
Electronics Engineer

Dean F. Skorski
Supervisory Electrical Engineer

Originating Office - Mine Safety and Health Administration
Southeastern District
135 Gemini Circle, Suite 212; Birmingham, AL 35209
Martin Rosta, District Manager


On September 7, 1999, Samuel D. Hartzell, Class A Lineman, age 26, was electrocuted while installing distribution lines. The unenergized lines had been partially strung on utility poles with the remaining line lying on the ground. Hartzell was walking the line to check it for tangles and kinks. Apparently, he moved the line at ground level and a portion that had been strung on the poles came in close proximity of an overhead energized power line, which caused the electricity to arc into the wire Hartzell was holding.

The accident occurred when the victim pulled the wire too close to an energized high voltage power line. Hartzell had a total of 6 years experience with Pike Electric, Incorporated. He had not received training in accordance with 30 CFR, Part 48. .


The Bessemer City Quarry, a crushed granite operation, owned and operated by Martin Marietta Aggregates, was located near Bessemer City, Gaston County, North Carolina. The principal operating official was Donald Champion, general manager. Total employment was 15 persons.

Pike Electric, Incorporated, a subcontractor for Duke Energy Power Company was located at Mount Airy, Surry County, North Carolina. The principal operating official was Zack Blackman, Jr., vice president. Martin Marietta Aggregates purchased electric power from Duke Energy Power Company.

The last regular inspection of this operation was completed August 12, 1999. A regular inspection was conducted following the investigation.


On the day of the accident, Samuel Hartzell (victim) reported for work at the Pike Electric shop at 7:00 a.m., his regular starting time. He, along with Kelly Sowards, class A lineman, and Frank Terry and John Cato, groundsmen, were scheduled to complete the new service installation for the old Fluid Machinery Corporation (FMC) shop located on mine property. The shop was to be put into service at a later date. They discussed the work to be performed and the procedures that were to be used before traveling to the job site. They arrived at the mine at 8:00 a.m.. Their job was to finish wiring the bank of three, 100 KVA transformers that had been installed on September 2, 1999, and install a second utility pole with cross arms to support the distribution lines, consisting of (4) spans of #2 ACSR (Aluminum conductors steel reinforce) wire and connect the shop to a dead set of service lines about 520 feet away. The first pole was 45 feet in length and supported the three transformers. The second pole, a 40-foot pole, was located approximately 114 feet from the first pole and was used as an intermediate support for the new power lines. The new service lines had to cross under an energized 44,000-volt high-voltage distribution circuit.

They had set and anchored the first pole without incident. While drilling the hole for the second pole they encountered rock about four feet down and could not drill any deeper because the drive shaft broke on the drill truck. Normally, poles were set between four and six feet deep, so they set the second pole at four feet. The first section of wires were then installed from the first pole to the second pole and secured to the insulators. The crew then decided to walk the wires up to the dead set of service lines and set the equipment up so they would be ready to anchor the pole after the truck was repaired. The guy lines could be installed to the second pole, once the pole was anchored.

At about 3:10 p.m., Hartzell walked the outside unenergized phase conductor, which was lying on the ground, to check for tangles and kinks in the wire. While handling and straightening the new power line, Hartzell apparently pulled with enough force to cause the conductor he was holding to come in contact with, or in close proximity to, one of the 44,000-volt conductors, enabling electricity to travel through the line he was holding.

Terry and Cato heard a loud buzzing sound and saw a blue flame traveling in the vicinity where the two spans of wires crossed. Meanwhile, Sowards was setting up the boom truck and heard a loud cracking sound. He turned and saw Hartzell laying on the ground. Apparently, an electrical flash occurred which energized the line Hartzell had been holding. Two co-workers ran to him and immediately administered CPR, while another called 911. The Tryon Fire Department arrived at 3:16 p.m. and continued to administer CPR. The victim was alive but was having difficulty breathing. Local emergency services arrived at 3:25 p.m. and transported the victim to a hospital where he was pronounced dead at 4:15 p.m. as a result of electrocution.


At 4:55 p.m., on September 7, 1999, Martin Rosta, district manager of MSHA's Southeastern District Office, Birmingham, Alabama, was notified of the accident by a telephone call from Dewey Murphy, safety training specialist for Martin Marietta Aggregates. MSHA began an investigation the same day with the assistance of mine management, the contractor and the North Carolina State inspector. An order was issued pursuant to Section 103(k) of the Mine Act to ensure the safety of miners. The miners did not request nor have representation during the investigation.

There was some speculation that, although the weather at the mine site on the day of the accident was clear and dry, some dark clouds in the distance may have produced a lightning strike. Therefore, the suspected cause of the accident was a lightning strike which contacted the 44,000 volt power lines and then arced to the conductor which the victim was handling. However, a lightning report and a 24-hour weather report were obtained. They provided no evidence that a lightning strike occurred within a 20-mile radius of the mine site at the time of the accident.

On October 26, 1999, the accident was further investigated by MSHA with the assistance of employees of Pike Electric, Incorporated who had been working at the site the day the accident occurred.


1. The old FMC shop was owned by Martin Marietta Aggregates. The shop was located at the west side of the mine and had been out of service for approximately 15 years. Plans were to provide electric power to the shop so that it could be put back in service at a later date. Power was to be purchased from Duke Energy Power Company.

2. Two substations on mine property reduced the voltage for equipment utilization. At the time of the accident, only one of the substations was being used. Energized power lines fed the idle substation and were not supplying power for anything. There was no need for them to be energized. Interviews conducted with Pike Electric employees on the October 26, 1999, investigation revealed some uncertainty among the employees as to whether or not they knew the 44,000 volt lines were energized.

3. Pike Electric, Incorporated was contracted by Duke Energy Power Company to complete the field work which included the installation of two utility poles. One pole supported a bank of three, 100 KVA transformers. The second pole provided support for distribution lines which consisted of four (4) spans of # 2 bare aluminum wire. These wires were to be connected to an existing un-energized set of distribution lines that were located about 520 feet away from the new transformers.

4. The 45-foot utility pole was set and anchored six and a half feet in the ground, approximately 16 feet from the shop. This had been completed the week before the accident. Three 100-kVA transformers were mounted on this utility pole. A ground rod was set in the ground at the base of the transformer pole and connected to the transformer tank grounds. The low-voltage side of the transformers had no connections and the fused disconnects on the high-voltage side were not yet installed.

5. The second utility pole, located about 114 feet away from the first, was set only four feet in the ground and had not been anchored. This was a 40-foot pole and standard depth for installation is six feet. When employees encountered rock while drilling the hole for the second pole, the drive shaft broke on the drill truck. Being as they were unable to drill any further they set the pole at four feet. They were also unable to drill anchor holes for the guy wires until the truck could be repaired.

6. Wires had been strung from the first pole and secured to insulators on the second pole. The wires were strung beneath a set of energized distribution lines. The new wires were separated 52 to 62 inches from the 44,000-volt energized wires (see appendix C).

7. Four #2 ACSR (aluminum conductors steel reinforce) wires were un-spooled by several Pike Electric, Incorporated employees from the transformer utility pole past the base of the second pole to the base of an existing third pole, located 406 feet from the second pole. The wires crossed a haul road, passed over a small mound of large rocks, small shrubs and bushes, and then proceeded up a slight grade to the existing utility pole. The electrical service to the existing utility pole was de-energized. Disconnect switches were to be installed to tie the service into the 12,470-volt service located off mine property about .5 miles away. Three #2ACSR conductors were secured to insulators mounted on the utility pole. A single #2 ASCR conductor (neutral) was connected to the transformer tank grounds approximately six feet below the transformers.

8. The three phase conductors were secured to insulators on the second utility pole. Two insulators were ten inches below the top of the pole, one on each end of the pole's cross arm. One was on the top of the pole. The neutral conductor was secured to the pole, approximately six feet below the cross arm.

9. Normally, a truck would be used to unreel and stretch the conductors. On the day of the accident, they were pulled by hand to where they would be attached to the existing distribution lines at the third pole.

10. On October 26, 1999, the second pole was found leaning towards the transformer pole due to the weight of the new power lines. The second pole had never been anchored and it was estimated that the top of the second pole was approximately two and half to three feet closer to the transformer pole. The distance between the 44,000 volt lines and the new power lines increased to approximately eight feet as a result of the leaning pole.

11. Each of the four new power lines were manually separated in the direction of the third existing pole. It was possible to move one of the new power lines, between the transformer pole and the second pole, enough for it to come into contact with one of the 44,000 volt power lines. Tests were conducted by pulling the new power line involved in the accident from a distance of about 150 feet from the second pole. It was not possible to force any of the new power lines into the 44,000 volt lines, when pulled from the location where the accident occurred (approximately 400 feet from the second pole). It should be noted that the effects of gravity incurred because of the leaning of the second pole, coupled with the eight foot separation between the new power lines and existing 44,000 volt lines, produced a different condition than that of September 7, 1999.


The primary cause of the accident was the pulling of the conductor with enough force to cause it to come in close proximity, or contact with the 44,000-volt, overhead, energized conductors.


Order No. 7791786 was issued on September 7, 1999, under the provisions of Section 103 (k) of the Mine Act:
A fatal accident occurred at this operation on September 7, 1999, when a contractor lineman was electrocuted while installing a new overhead power line. This order is issued to assure the safety of persons at this operation and prohibits any work in this area until MSHA determines that it is safe to resume normal operations as determined by an authorized representative of the Secretary of Labor. The operator shall obtain approval from an authorized representative for all actions to recover and/or restore operations in the affected area.
This order was terminated on September 9, 1999. Power to the energized lines has been disconnected and normal mining operations can resume.

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB99M33


Persons Participating in the Investigation

Martin Marietta Aggregates

Donald Carpenter ............... plant manager
Dewey Murphy ............... safety training specialist
Pike Electric, Incorporated
Donald B. Anderson............... assistant vice president
Neal Sanders ............... region supervisor
Kevin D. Watson ............... safety training supervisor
Kelly Sowards ............... class A lineman
John Cato ............... groundsman
Frank Terry ............... groundsman
North Carolina Department of Labor
Bryan M. Moore............... mine safety and health representative
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Walter E. Turner ............... supervisory mine inspector Terry A. Scott ............... mine safety and health inspector (electrical) Stephen B. Dubina ............... electronics engineer Dean F. Skorski ............... supervisory electrical engineer

Persons Interviewed

Pike Electric, Incorporated
Kelly Sowards ............... class A lineman John Cato ............... groundsman Frank Terry ............... groundsman