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Dangling pole kills motorist

A crane operator is arrested in the nighttime accident, which also killed a co-worker. Police say no traffic warnings were in place.

December 08, 2006|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Upland police arrested a crane operator on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter Thursday after a driver slammed into a power pole being moved by a Southern California Edison contractor, killing the 81-year-old motorist and a utility worker.

The power pole was suspended by the crane four feet above a north-south traffic lane on Benson Avenue near 11th Street when it was struck by the motorist shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday, said Upland Police Sgt. Alan Ansara.

The impact of the collision sheared off the roof of the green Buick Riviera, killing the driver at the scene and critically injuring his 80-year-old wife. She was taken to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, where she was listed in critical condition, authorities said. The couple lived in Montclair.

David Jenkins, 29, of Lake Elsinore, the utility worker who was hit by the pole, was taken to San Antonio Community Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead, according to the San Bernardino County coroner's office.

Upland police officials said the workers, employees of Pouk & Steinle Inc. in Riverside, failed to take proper safety precautions to avoid the accident.

"In general, our feeling is that there needed to be some safety measures taken that were not," Ansara said. "Whether it was using cones, flags, flares, a flagman or lights, there are a number of safety precautions that could and should have been used, and none were."

Upland police arrested crane operator Joseph Dimaano, 31, on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter and said they would refer the case to the San Bernardino County district attorney's office.

Southern California Edison spokesman Steve Conroy said the utility had launched its own investigation into the circumstances that led to the accident.

The company that employs the workers is owned by MDU Construction Services Group of Bismarck, N.D. The company also announced an internal investigation.

"Safety is a priority with our company and is a part of our vision statement. It deeply saddens us that fatalities occurred with one of our construction crews. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families involved in this unfortunate accident," CEO Terry Hildestad said in a statement.

Cal/OSHA, the state workplace safety agency, is also investigating.

"Edison and all its contractors are required to take all safety precautions when conducting utility work in field locations," Conroy said. "We will look at whether proper measures were taken."

Peter Korn, a defense attorney and former L.A. County prosecutor, said it's unusual but not unprecedented to proceed with a criminal prosecution involving a workplace accident.

"Criminal prosecutions generally are not warranted in workplace accidents, even when it involves a negligent act," Korn said. "It's different when that work is being done in a way that impacts the public, in this case involving senior citizens on a city street."

andrew.blankstein@ latimes.com

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