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Lawyer paints grim picture for jury in North Huntingdon electrocution case

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

An Allegheny County jury was told Thursday that West Penn Power Co. crews were negligent when they installed a 7,200-volt line behind a North Huntingdon family's home, causing the wire to fall and electrocute a 39-year-old woman in 2009.

Shanin Specter of Philadelphia, attorney for the family of Carrie Goret-zka, told jurors in his opening statement of the family's wrongful death lawsuit against the utility that West Penn's linemen ignored a manufacturer's recommendation to wire brush the ends of the line connections when it was strung in 2004 behind the home of Michael and Carrie Goretzka at 23 W. Hempfield Drive.

“You've got to determine what caused this beautiful homemaker, daughter and mother to be brutally electrocuted by this 7,200-volt line falling on a clear and sunny day on June 2, 2009. Evidence will show she was trapped under that line for more than 20 minutes,” Specter said.

The line fell on top of Carrie Goretzka in full view of her two daughters, Cloe, then 4, and Carlie, then 2, and her mother-in-law, Joann Goretzka. Joann Goretzka suffered burns to her hands as she unsuccessfully attempted to move Carrie Goretzka from beneath the line, Specter said.

Carrie Goretzka died three days later at UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh after suffering burns on 85 percent of her body.

Aurum Levicoff, attorney for West Penn Power Co., which is now owned by FirstEnergy Corp of Akron, urged jurors to decide the case on facts, not on emotions.

Levicoff argued that the utility crewmen are properly trained and “exercised due care” when installing and maintaining the line.

“The evidence will show that negligence did not cause this terrible accident. There is not one comprehensive test that will show that not using a wire brush will cause a line failure,” he said.

“Using a knife will do the same thing as a wire brush. It really doesn't affect the splice,” Levicoff said.

Specter said he will summon utility company employees and various experts in the field during the trial in an attempt to prove the workers used a knife to remove rust off the spliced ends of the wire instead of the recommended wire brush.

“That would be like using a knife to brush your teeth ... you can't get the material out of the crevices,” Specter said.

He noted that the line failed for the same malfunction in June 2004, causing massive burns in the backyard grass of the Goretzka home, yet the utility failed to properly install it the second time.

Moments after projecting a photograph of Carrie Goretzka, her husband, Michael, and their two daughters enjoying vacation at Disney World in Florida three days before her horrific death, Specter showed jurors another photograph of a burned imprint of Carrie Goretzka's body. The photograph showed a black outline of her body that was left in the lawn as she was electocuted a few feet outside of her home.

Using a 12-by-12-foot screen erected in the courtroom, Specter projected warning labels contained on the wrappings of the splicing equipment.

The warning labels advise users that failure to clean the connections with a “wire brush could cause the eventual failure of the splice.”

The family is seeking unspecified damages against the utility.

Judge Michael A. Della Vecchia is presiding over the trial, which is expected to last about two weeks.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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