I-TEAM INVESTIGATES: In wake of Melquan Robinson's death, utility testing company says some light poles around city pose serious dangers

By  | 

Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019
News 12 at 6 O’Clock

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Our I-Team is revealing more shock hazards around the city of Augusta after the death of 12-year-old Melquan Robinson.

Robinson was electrocuted by a city park fence last fall.

This started with an e-mail from a utility testing business out of Florida. After Robinson's death, the business said it surveyed several Augusta light poles and found many of them had electric volts coming off them.

And it wasn't just a little. It was enough volts to seriously hurt you.

Mark Voigtsberger with Utility Testing and Geographic Information Systems said he heard about the electrocution of Robinson at Fleming Park.

He and his brother came down from Port St. Lucie Florida with their own testing equipment.

"We came across several poles that had voltages on them that needed attention," Voigtsberger said.

They told us in email "we identified 8 light poles" "each with over 100 volts on them."

"We have had no luck in reporting those poles to the City. Our calls go unanswered, but these eight poles are too dangerous to be ignored," the email said.

So, our I-team called the city spokesman. He called Engineering Director John Ussery who sent crews out. We caught some of their work on video.

"We did find there was a low voltage coming off that metal pole," Ussery said. "We immediately shutdown the circuit that fed all those polls and we did some investigation the next day, figured out what was wrong, and repaired the pole."

The city told us average reading they got off the poles were 20-30 volts off the poles. We requested reports of the readings under Georgia open records laws and were told the records "didn't exist."

In an email, the city thanked News 12 for telling them about the problem. They also told us the city is now pulling most of the traffic engineering staff to test approximately 5,000 other city-owned lights they say were also installed under "older, less-stringent standards"
and "were not grounded the same way modern lighting is required to be."

"We are testing every single pole and every single circuit to make sure this isn't happening anywhere else," Ussery said.

Ussery went on to say that the city is looking to be safe rather than sorry.

"We want to make sure there is no chance of anyone getting injured that should be safe," Ussery said.

But is there a process to check the poles every few years?

"Unfortunately, we have a lot of lights and we don't have lot of people to look at those lights. So, we do have a maintenance schedule, but it might be years in between when we look at them," Ussery said.

Here's where things got weird. After, talking to the city's engineering director we went back out. Remember, the poles on 4th and Greene were supposed to be fixed.

But that didn't appear to be the case, according to Voigtsberger, who used a hand wand to measure the voltage.

"I am measuring more than 100 volts on this pole," Voigtsberger said. "So this pole is a safety hazard."

The city came out again. The next day the director told our I-Team in a text, "We tested the poles with multiple pieces of our own equipment and measured very low voltage (about 2 volts). We have shutdown the electricity to the street lights in this area until we can do a more thorough investigation."

Ussery said what happened on 4th and Greene would not happen on Walton Way because newer poles have sensors. He says eventually -- years down the road -- the TIA program would provide new lights for these areas. Until then, they are working on improving their maintenance schedule.