Malfunctioning utility boxes prove a danger

Electrocution: Two dogs have been killed in about a year in Charles 

By Jill Rosen
Sun Staff

December 16, 2004, 10:02 PM EST
It took about five seconds for Roy to die.

One minute, Jennifer Bowman was walking him along St. Paul Street in 
Charles Village, waiting somewhat patiently for him to do his business so 
they could get in out of the Friday-night rain. The next, Roy let out a 
piercing, chilling yelp and jumped.

By the time Bowman realized the sound was her dog screaming, he had 
fallen over onto the sidewalk. When she reached out to him and felt an 
electric tingle, she knew. Roy had just been electrocuted. And then she 

Roy -- a Belgian Malinois, a variety of Belgian shepherd -- died almost 
instantly a month ago on a busy city street after stepping on an 
electrified metal utility box cover. This was the second time in about a year 
that a dog has died this way in the area -- the 3400 block of St. Paul, 
steps from Union Memorial Hospital, Johns Hopkins University dorms, and 
a strip of restaurants, shops and pubs.

Barry Meyer, who manages Johns Hopkins facilities, was walking his dog 
on St. Paul that evening and ran to help Bowman after hearing her cry 
out. As he watched her drop to the ground and try to give Roy 
cardiopulmonary resuscitation, he called Baltimore Gas and Electric, the police, 
everyone he could think of.

"It's only by the grace of God this woman's dog stepped on the plate 
and not her," Meyer said. "It's tragic enough it happened to her dog."

Earlier this year in New York City, a 30-year-old architect got a fatal 
electric shock when she stepped on a utility box containing improperly 
insulated wires. In August 2003, a tourist from Kentucky was killed on 
the Las Vegas strip after she stepped on a utility box plate during a 
rainstorm. Dogs have been electrocuted this way in Boston.

In Baltimore, BGE supplies the electricity. But Baltimore officials say 
the city is responsible for maintaining most of the utility boxes, 
which house underground wires that power light poles and other electricity 

Nevertheless, city officials could provide no details this week about 
what malfunctioned at the box Roy stepped on, how the city repaired it 
or whether crews have been back since to make sure it is functioning 

Kathy Chopper, a spokeswoman for Baltimore's Department of 
Transportation, the agency that handles utility maintenance, said Thursday that the 
city responded to the Nov. 12 incident but that she could not find a 
report on it.

Chopper also said the city has no preventative maintenance program for 
checking utility boxes, of which there are "thousands upon thousands."

Unlike with more visible problems like light-pole outages, she said, 
there's no way city crews, or residents, can know whether a utility box 
is electrified.

"I wouldn't touch them," she said.

After Manhattan architect Jodie S. Lane was electrocuted in January 
while walking her two dogs in the East Village, Lane's family and a new 
organization of safety advocates, the Jodie Lane Project, fought to have 
the utility company there overhaul its safety policies.

In a settlement announced a month ago, Consolidated Edison agreed to 
pay Lane's family more than $6.2 million. The utility also vowed to 
better handle stray voltage problems and appointed a panel of electrical 
experts to monitor those efforts.

Gunnar Hellekson, director of the Jodie Lane Project, said that before 
Lane's death, New York dog walkers knew about sidewalk hot spots 
because their dogs avoided them. "None of us," he said, "knew exactly why."

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, whose district includes 
Charles Village, said the city, like New York, must have safety standards 
and suggested that Baltimore look to see what Con Ed did after Lane's 
death to close the holes in its system.

"That dog might have been our canary, warning us of a major problem," 
Clarke said. "If a dog is electrocuted, it certainly could be a child."

While Roy lay dead on the sidewalk next to the utility box last month, 
people from nearby apartments who came out to help Bowman told her that 
for the past week, they'd seen dogs jumping in that exact spot.

People also told her they'd heard of other dogs being electrocuted a 
bit farther down St. Paul. Johns Hopkins University security officer 
Anthony Ingagliu, who responded to Bowman's emergency call, heard of a man 
who "pressed against a pole [in that same area] and was thrown, 
literally, into the street."

Deborah DuVall watched a dog die last year in the 3100 block of St. 

DuVall was working that rainy night at Images gift shop on that block. 
"I heard this awful howl. I can't describe it," she said. Walking 
outside to check, she saw a Labrador mix lying on the street, its leash tied 
to a pole near a metal utility plate.

As the animal helplessly relieved itself on the street, DuVall, who has 
dogs of her own, knew it was dying. Reaching out to comfort it, she got 
a small shock. "I said, 'Tell the vet this dog has been electrocuted,'" 
she says. "It's lucky we all didn't get it."

The dog died right outside Arnold Greenberg's shop, Eddie's liquor 
store. "Of course we were concerned," he said. "Suppose it would have been 
a human being?"

Meyer, the Johns Hopkins facilities manager who witnessed Roy's death, 
acknowledges that Baltimore, like New York and Boston, is an older city 
with aging infrastructure but says the city must maintain the electric 
conduits and not just swoop in after an injury occurs. Electrical lines 
should also get maintenance priority over water lines, he says.

"People don't get killed or harmed when you have a water main break," 
he said. "I really think they need to be more dili gent in checking out 
their infrastructure and not just putting people in the city at risk."

Equally outraged, Bowman can't believe Roy's death didn't prompt the 
city to investigate its utility boxes. "It's ridiculous it has not come 
to anyone's attention," she said.

Bowman, 32, who works at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public 
Health, picked the 6-month-old Roy from the other dogs at the Montgomery 
County pound two years ago. She needed a companion and knew from the 
moment she saw his pointy ears and happy gait that Roy was the one. 
Despite his kennel cough and mange, she brought him home.

She took Roy to advanced obedience classes and signed him up to learn 
hand signals. Instead of giving him canned chow, she boiled him chicken 
and mixed it with yogurt. When Bowman talks of things she did with Roy, 
she says "we."

As in, the night last month when Roy died, "We'd just watched a movie 
and we were going to return it."

With Supersize Me returned to Video Americain on St. Paul, Bowman and 
Roy crossed to the east side of the street to head home. Minutes later, 
Roy lay dead on the sidewalk.

Though it's been a month, Bowman can't get rid of his food dishes, his 
little bed, his toys. And she really can't bear to hear it when people 
tell her, as they often do, that perhaps Roy died to prevent this from 
happening to her.

"I haven't given that any thought," she said, trying to fight back 
sobs. "I just miss my dog."

Copyright (c) 2004, The Baltimore Sun

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