Exclusive: Potentially deadly electrical charges found on city streets

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NORTHEAST OHIO — You need to be careful where you walk and what you touch outdoors. Channel 3 News found hidden hazards in Akron and Cleveland that could kill you.
At the request of the Investigator Tom Meyer, a New Jersey-based company called Power Survey did a spot check of contact voltage, also sometimes called stray voltage.
This is voltage found on objects that should not be energized, such as manholes, junction boxes, sidewalks, grates, and light poles.
The company found one of the most dangerous light poles in the country on East 22nd Street near St. Vincent Charity Medical Center.
“That would kill an elephant,” Tom Catanese, of Power Survey said.
Catanese and co-worker Dave Kalokitis found 454 volts coming off the pole. Power survey has found about 65,000 contact voltage hazards across the country.
The company spent four hours driving around Cleveland and Akron.
“Based on what we have seen, it’s indicative of other places where we’ve been and where we have found thousands of energized structures,” Catanese said.
Power Survey uses cutting-edge technology on a special truck to detect contact voltage. They’ve been doing monthly sweeps in New York City ever since a young woman was electrocuted when she stepped on a manhole cover that was charged with 57 volts.
On average, they find about 800 new hazards a month. In addition to the 454 volts found on the light pole in Cleveland, Power Survey found two light poles in Akron that each had 118 volts.
“That’s the same voltage that comes out of a wall socket out of your house,” Kalokitis said.
Kalokitis is the chief technical officer for Power Survey. Contact voltage has killed people and pets in at least 15 cities.
Michelle Comstock, of Galion, Ohio, near Mansfield, had never heard of contact voltage until her daugher Aubrey, 8, stepped on an energized electrical box at a recreational park and was electrocuted.
“It was the most horrible feeling a mother could have because I was completely helpless,” Comstock said.
An electrical jolt killed Willie Wagner, 9, of Columbus. Family lawyer Gerald Leeseberg said Willie suddenly slumped between a light pole and a fence when returning home from a visit to the science museum.
“Because he touched both the chain link fence with one hand and the pole with the other hand, the electric surge went through his chest and across his chest and killed him,” Leeseberg said.
Channel 3 news contacted FirstEnergy and Cleveland Public Power about the hazards and crews came out immediately to repair the problems.
The hazards were created from frayed or uninsulated wires.
“The bulk of these problems are usually the result of infrastructure deterioration,” Catanese said.
Both utilities said they have inspection and maintenance programs to repair unsafe conditions, but neither utility goes and looks regularly for contact voltage issues.
Catanese argues a band-aid approach to the problem isn’t doing enough to serve public safety.
“You shouldn’t have to hopscotch around town avoiding these energized objects. Find them and fix them,” Catanese said.