Nearly three years after a worker was electrocuted while erecting scaffolding on a football field at Mission Viejo High School, a company and three of its supervisors have been charged with violating safety laws.
Daniel Pohl, 23, of Apple Valley was erecting scaffolding for a banner supporting the school’s football team on July 17, 2014 when he came into contact with high-voltage power lines and was killed instantly. Another worker, who rushed to Pohl’s aid, sustained serious, permanent injuries from the power line, authorities said.
Freshman players and parents at a nearby baseball game saw the accident.
Pohl and the other man were working for Five Star Plastering, owned by Thomas Aaron Blythe, 46, of Rancho Santa Margarita, who also served as the vice president of Mission Viejo High’s booster club, authorities said.
On Thursday, the Orange Orange County District Attorney’s Office announced criminal charges filed against Blythe, his company and two of his employees: John Lawrence Alberts, 57, of Apple Valley, and Timothy Scott Gordon, 52, of Lake Elsinore.
Prosecutors said the power lines were approximately two feet above the scaffolding, a safety violation under the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which requires a minimum clearance of six feet.
Prosecutors said Alberts, the foreman, failed to properly check the clearance between the power lines and scaffolding, while Gordon, the safety coordinator, failed to inspect the job site for hazards.
Blythe ordered the job and was on site when it was started, prosecutors said.
The three men each pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of willful violation causing injury or death. If convicted, each face up to three years in prison, while Five Star Plastering faces $1.5 million in fines.
Cal-OSHA investigated the case and fined the defendants $164,000 for safety violations.
Authorities said Pohl and the other worker were untrained with less than three weeks of experience when they were assigned the job.
Pohl was a new father who was excited to have a job to help support his family, his father told the Register after the accident.
By Salvador Hernandez and Sean Emery Orange County Register
July 18, 2014 at 7:35 am
MISSION VIEJO, CA:
State safety officials are investigating the electrocution of a construction worker in Mission Viejo High, but school district officials said Friday they don’t know who hired the company to hang a banner on school grounds.
The 23-year-old worker was atop of a 25- to 35-foot scaffold when he was electrocuted by overhead wires Thursday afternoon. A co-worker who climbed up to help him was also shocked by the wires and was injured.
The three-man crew was working to hang a banner for a school event on the school’s field, but a spokeswoman for the Saddleback Valley Unified School District said the company was not hired nor authorized by the school district, though they were working on school grounds.
“At this time, we’re still investigating that,” said Tammy Blakely, spokeswoman for the Saddleback Valley Unified School District.
Investigators from the state’s Occupational Safety and Health department, known as Cal/OSHA, are looking into the incident, said Kathleen Hennessy, spokeswoman for the agency.
Cal/OSHA officials will be looking into what safety measures the company had in place, including what plans the company has for when crews work near electrical wires, Hennessy said.
School district officials are also looking into who hired the company, Five Star Plastering, to hang the banner.
Coroner officials identified the worker as 23-year-old Daniel Pohl, a resident of Apple Valley.
Pohl was at the top of the scaffolding when he somehow came into contact with electrical wires, said Capt. Steve Concialdi of the Orange County Fire Authority.
“It was very close to the electrical wires,” Concialdi said of the scaffolding.
Freshman players and parents at a baseball game at the time also witnessed the accident, Concialdi said.
An off-duty sergeant with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, as well as coaches and other witnesses ran to help the man, said Lt. Jeff Hallock of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
One of the workers climbed to help Pohl. When he stood up he touched the wires with his neck, Concialdi said.
The off-duty sergeant had also climbed on the scaffold, but jumped down when he saw the second worker injured, Hallock said.
The shock threw him about 30 feet onto the ground, officials said. He suffered burns on his neck and hands.
That second worker was choking when the sergeant moved him to his side to help him breathe, Hallock said.
Both men were taken to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, where Pohl was pronounced dead.
The second worker, who has not been identified, was in serious condition.
Officials with the company, Five Star Plastering, did not return calls seeking comment.
James Pohl, Daniel Pohl’s father, said he had recently started working for the company, with a focus on putting up scaffolding. Pohl had a background in construction, having previously worked setting up solar panels. James Pohl said his son had also helped him with projects in Oregon after James was injured in a motorcycle accident.
Pohl was having a good time in his new position, his father said, and was glad to be able to provide for his wife Britney and his newborn son Levi.
“He was so excited about being able to take care of his family,” James Pohl said. “He just wanted a good job and the chance to prove himself.”
Pohl “never slowed down,” his father said, enjoying outdoor activies such as rock climbing in his time off.
“He was the bubbliest, most crowd-pleasing kid. Everybody loved him,” James Pohl said. “He was my best friend and my son.”
CA Company And 3 Supervisors Arraigned For Violating Scaffolding Laws Near High Voltage Power Lines That Killed 1 Employee And Injured Another
NewPort Beach, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) - A company and three of its supervisors were arraigned on May 9, 2017, for violating scaffolding laws near high voltage power lines that killed one employee and injured another at Mission Viejo High School.
Charged on April 7, 2017, with one felony count each of:
Alberts, Blythe and Gordon:
Five Star Plastering, Inc.
July 25, 2017, 8:30 a.m.
Department H-7, Harbor Justice Center, Newport Beach
- At the time of the crime, Blythe was the president and owner of Five Star Plastering, Inc. (Five Star), and the vice president of the Mission Viejo High School (MVHS) booster club. Alberts was the crew supervisor, and Gordon was the company's safety coordinator.
- In July 2014, 23-year-olds Daniel Pohl and John Doe were working for Five Star to erect scaffolding on a football field at MVHS that would eventually display a banner supporting the school's football team.
- Pohl and John Doe were untrained employees with less than three weeks of experience when they were assigned the job.
- Blythe is accused of ordering the job be done and being on site when it was started.
- Gordon is accused of failing to inspect the job site for safety hazards prior to or during the scaffolding process.
- Alberts is accused of being the foreman at the MVHS site and improperly checking the clearance between the scaffolding and high-voltage power lines, which is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to be six feet at minimum.
- During construction on July 17, 2014, Pohl came in contact with power lines that were approximately two feet above the scaffolding and was instantly killed by high voltage electrocution.
- John Doe came to Pohl's aid and sustained serious and permanent injuries from the same power line.
- Emergency responders pronounced Pohl dead at the scene and took John Doe to a local hospital.
- The defendants were subsequently fined $164,000 by OSHA, and all are accused of willfully violating OSHA provisions for preventing accidents due to proximity to overhead lines.
Prosecutor: Deputy District Attorney Kelly Ernby, Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit