Cumpston Research

Firm guilty in '99 electrocution death

June 03, 2005

One of the nation's oldest electrical contractors was convicted last month of violating workplace safety rules in the 1999 death of an employee in what federal prosecutors say is one of the rarest criminal cases in Chicago federal court history, according to the Chicago Tribune.
L.E. Myers Co. was found guilty of willfully breaking OSHA regulations in the death of Blake Lane, 20, who was killed on his second day working for the company.

The Rolling Meadows-based company was acquitted of a second charge in the 2000 death of Wade Cumpston, 43.

Prosecutors say L.E. Myers willfully ignored workplace regulations that would have kept both men alive.

"We are trying to ensure worker's safety and send a message to corporations that OSHA regulations are going to be taken seriously," Assistant U.S. Atty. Eric Sussman said.

L.E. Myers "shirked their responsibility, a very serious responsibility," Sussman said.

The company faces a maximum sentence of 5 years' probation and a $500,000 fine for the misdemeanor charge, prosecutors said.

L.E. Meyer's parent company, MYR Group, issued a two-page statement that said the company investigated the two incidents and did not believe it had violated any OSHA standards.

Both incidents happened within three months of each other.

Lane, of Sullivan, Ill., was a rookie in the power-line construction industry when he was jolted by 2,400 volts of electricity atop a 120-foot steel tower in Mt. Prospect on Dec. 28, 1999.

Prosecutors said Lane, who was inexperienced, was not warned by his foreman that the line was live.

Cumpston, of Ashland, Ky., was an experienced lineman who was electrocuted while working in a bucket at a Plainfield ComEd tower. He tried to remove one end of a ground wire while the wire's other end was still attached to a live power line. Prosecutors alleged that the line had not been properly grounded.

The deaths of Lane and Cumpston were the latest in a long history of workplace fatalities for L.E. Myers, a company that builds and repairs high-voltage power lines. A Tribune investigation in 2003 showed the company had had 35 work-related deaths and 200 violations of federal and state safety rules since 1972.

Stanford University Law professor William Gould called the L.E. Myers' case unusual.

"I do know that is a rare occurrence for criminal sanctions to be sought against violations for health and safety," said Gould, who specializes in labor law and is a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board in Washington.

One of the reasons might be that the standard of proof in a criminal case is much higher than that in a civil proceeding, he said.

Both Cumpston's and Lane's families have civil litigation pending against L.E. Myers, Sussman said.

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