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Testimony Ends in Civil Lawsuit | News, Sports, Jobs


Photo by Michele Newbanks Professional Electrical Engineer Troy Little shows the jury a melted surge protector during Day 7 of the trial of the Estate of Elsa Thompson against AEP.

Testimony ended Wednesday in the lawsuit accusing AEP of the wrongful death of longtime Marietta resident Elsa Thompson in a May 2019 house fire.

The final two defense witnesses, Jeff Paulus and Troy Little, took the stand to testify based on their knowledge of electrical systems and response times.

Certified Fire Inspector Jeff Paulus was asked by the AEP to review their employee response times, including those for May 25, 2019, the date of Elsa Thompson’s house fire.

Paulus said the events of that day could be compared to a book. The book’s prologue is said to be that the fire was on a windy day in May which led to falling branches.

He said Josh Vandergrift, the AEP line worker who handled the calls that day, would be the book’s author and the chapters are calls from the public. Every page is from the expedition, he said.

He testified that it is important to restore the main supply first, then the groups of houses, then the individual houses last.

“You cannot put the individual line first, because the main charger can take priority depending on incoming calls”, he said.

He said you wouldn’t know if a Priority 2 or Priority 3 call was more important, as it depended on the cause of each call.

Paulus said priority 2 calls are dangers, but if there’s an outage and a lot of people don’t have power, that would make for a bigger chapter in the book and should be taken care of first. Priority 2 calls. Multiple calls in the same area add to the chapter, he said.

Someone needs to investigate the call in order to complete the chapter.

With priority 3 all outs, if a lot of people are out of power, you may not know why. The line worker should go out to investigate the reason for the power failure. The line service attendant completes the chapter by returning all customers to service, Paulus said.

The May windstorm caused eight chapters of the book, he said.

After reviewing all of the reports provided, he concluded that AEP did not violate any internal guidelines or any industry or national standards.

He said based on the testimonies provided, everything Vandergrift did was within the scope of his job and he “I couldn’t have done otherwise.

“He did everything to get everything online,” he said.

Paulus added that Vandergrift knew what calls he had in Marietta, because it was about trees on power lines.

“In his eyes and in my eyes, they represented less risk than all these other calls”, he testified.

During cross-examination, Jordan Liebovitz asked Paulus if he agreed that staffing is essential for utility companies, such as having an appropriate amount of staff to handle tickets. incident. Paulus agreed.

Liebovitz asked if the dangers left unresolved could be deadly and if the personnel were sufficient for the event?

“There was an attempt to hire more staff”, Paulus replied.

He said it was late on a Saturday over a holiday weekend. No one answered calls at work, although workers have to answer calls 40% of the time.

Liebovitz asked if Paulus entered the courtroom and testified that AEP had done nothing wrong, to which Paulus said yes.

“If the managers came in and said they failed Elsa Thompson, would you have any reason to disagree with that?” asked Liebovitz.

Paulus said he didn’t know in what context the question was asked.

“If a witness from the AEP stood up and said that the AEP had failed Elsa Thompson and that the actions of the AEP had resulted in her death, would that change your opinion?” asked Liebovitz.

Again, Paulus said it would depend on the context, but depending on the context, then yes.

Paulus said no documentation provided to him said anything indicating that unknown priority 3 hazards jumped over priority 2 calls. He said it depends on training and experience. of the service worker to be determined, as priorities are not a written policy.

Liebovitz said he was the fifth witness to testify regarding the written policies and if the other four testified that they were policies and not guidelines, would Paulus agree, and he said no.

Liebovitz asked if Vandergrift went to the Priority 3 call in New Matamoras before moving to a proximity-based danger call and nothing else, would that change his opinion. Paulus said no, because proximity plays a role in determining which calls to take.

Paulus said he only worked for a utility company for a year and a half in 1988. He was interviewed and said he had no experience with lines or poles after a storm. He also never investigated the training of line workers or the systems for handling calls in the event of a problem.

According to PSA policy, dispatch must notify service workers of Priority 1 or 2 calls. If they haven’t done so, it’s a departure from their own written policies, Liebovitz asked. . Paulus said it was a deviation from a paragraph in the policy.

Paulus also said there is no evidence to suggest or indicate that AEP radioed Vandergrift regarding Elsa Thompson’s Priority 2 call or that a supervisor was monitoring the calls.

He said that when it comes to written policies, Vandergrift followed them based on his education, training and experience.

Paulus told attorney Liz Moyo that it wouldn’t concern him if the danger appeal process wasn’t given to Vandergrift because he was trained.

Little, a professional electrical engineer, serves on several subcommittees of the National Electrical Safety Code, which outlines the rules workers follow for safety, he said.

“This is consistent with OSHA safety regulations,” he added.

Ohio has adopted the NESC, which doesn’t require a priority system and doesn’t describe how to respond to breakdown calls, Little said.

He was asked if he assessed whether the AEP complied with the NESC and Little replied that he did and they did.

“There were no rules violated by anyone specifically associated with this case,” he said.

In analysis, there were no NESC rules on business sequence priorities, he added.

He investigated the cause of the fire by reviewing information from on-site investigators, artifacts found, and witness testimony.

Evidence and artifacts found were taken to a laboratory environment for more detailed analysis, including photographs and x-rays.

The drop in service was collected, which was rolled out and measured. He said there were chew marks consistent with squirrel damage, while some threads were sharp, as if they had been pulled apart.

He said there was no idea when the line completely failed. His theory is that it was damaged by squirrels and then ripped off by the weight of the tree.

The defense showed a photo of an x-ray taken of the failed power strip, along with some of the strip’s internal components.

Few said there were possibilities about what caused the fire, but none were more likely than not. He said he couldn’t rule out failure of any of the electronic components or trauma to the cord.

Attorney John Power asked Little in cross-examination whether the photos taken at the scene were adequate for his investigation. Little said the person taking the pictures missed some of the interesting stuff.

Little also testified that AEP did not give him the wire that ran from the post to the break. He said he didn’t know how long the wire was, so it wasn’t clear where the break was.

Power asked him if AEP was in possession of the wire at some point, since they cut it. Little replied that he didn’t know what happened to him and he didn’t specifically ask.

“I asked them to give me everything they had” he said.

Little also testified that he was aware of two or three electronic devices in the family room. Family members testified earlier that there were six of them and they were all operable. He said he couldn’t dispute that the plugs from the electronics were most likely consumed in the fire.

Little has been asked about the consumption of electronics in the event of a fire. He gave the melting temperatures of plastic at 200-250 degrees, aluminum at 1,200 degrees, brass at 1,700 degrees, copper at 2,000 degrees, nickel at 2,600 degrees, and steel at 2,700 degrees.

He said there should be brass artifacts if the fire was below 1,700 degrees. There were no brass parts of the plugs found.

He said no brass was found in the junction box and no evidence of flowing brass that had melted. He testified to seeing molten copper, so the temperature was at least 2,000 degrees.

Little said that if the utility chute was cut and turned off at 6 p.m. as Elsa had been told, there would be no power in the house. If the fire had been caused electrically, then the fire would not have occurred.

He said he more than likely believed the fire was electric.

After the defense completed their case, visiting judge Edward O’Farrell said instructions to the jury would be given at 9am today, followed by closing statements. The jury would then begin to deliberate.

Michele Newbanks can be contacted at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.



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