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    Power line on car keeps rescuers at bay

    Emergency workers are forced to stand by for more than half an hour waiting for a Florida Power crew to arrive. By then it was too late.

    By MICHAEL SANDLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published December 13, 2001


    LARGO -- Andrew Miller was clinging to life when help arrived. But emergency workers could only watch as he took his last breath.

    A 7,200-volt live power line sat on the hood of his car and prevented them from pulling Miller out.

    "He was not cognizant and he was not making purposeful movements or speaking," said Pat McGinley, a Largo Fire Rescue district chief. "But we could see from our vantage point that he was breathing."

    Though a Florida Power crew was 5 to 7 miles away, it took them 37 minutes to arrive and shut off power. By then, Miller, 21, was dead.

    "They left and dropped everything, and got there as quickly as they could," said Rick Janka, a spokesman for Florida Power.

    An autopsy should determine if Miller died from electricity or injuries from the crash, which knocked a 40-foot concrete utility pole out of the ground and atop Miller's 1996 Chevrolet Corsica.

    Miller, of 5410 68th Way N, St. Petersburg, was driving north on Starkey Road around 8 p.m. Tuesday when he veered and slammed into the pole. McKinley said the pole crushed the roof and likely broke Miller's neck.

    "In my experience, people don't survive that kind of trauma," said McGinley. "I think they made the best possible response they could. In my 30 years of (responding to auto accidents), this was not a survivable crash."

    No one witnessed the accident. An off-duty sheriff's deputy driving nearby saw the wreckage and called for help at 8:09 p.m.

    Rescuers arrived four minutes later. As they watched from about 30 feet away, they saw Miller breathing. They called for a helicopter.

    McGinley said the first call to Florida Power went out at 8:13 p.m. Janka said workers were tending to an outage 5 to 7 miles away in Bardmoor when they were alerted. They were leaving at 8:17 p.m. when they were called again and alerted to the seriousness of the wreck.

    "They finished up quickly what they were doing safely," Janka said. "And as they were getting to the vehicle, they got the second 911 call that said it was more urgent."

    At 8:37 p.m., Miller appeared to stop breathing. The Florida Power crew arrived about 8:50 p.m. -- 37 minutes after the first call -- and shut off power within a minute, McGinley said.

    "He pulled up, he hit the breaks, he got out and cut the line," said McGinley. "I doubt it was more than a minute."

    McGinley said Largo rescue crews do not have the training or equipment needed to turn off power. As for whether it should have taken almost 40 minutes for Florida Power to arrive, Janka said company employees don't have the authority to speed or pass through red lights.

    Police have not determined why Miller left the road. He was wearing a seat belt. Toxicology tests will determine if alcohol played role, but investigators said they found no visible signs that it was a factor.

    Judging from the impact, police said he was likely traveling beyond the 45 mph speed limit.

    "At this point, all we know for sure is that there is no evidence of any kind of evasive maneuvers," said Sgt. Mark Young of the Largo Police Department. "He just left the roadway, was going at pretty decent speed, and hit the pole."

    - Michael Sandler can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or sandler@sptimes.com

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