Husband expresses pain of losing wife in case against West Penn Power
Michael J. Goretzka tearfully told an Allegheny County jury Wednesday how much he regrets that he couldn't say goodbye to his wife after she was electrocuted outside their Hempfield home in 2009.
“She was the mother of my two daughters, my wife, and my best friend. I live for my two girls now,” Goretzka testified in the eighth day of his wrongful death trial against West Penn Power.
Goretzka claims power company crewmen caused a line to fall onto his wife, Carrie, 39, on June 2, 2009, because they did not properly clean a connection when the line was installed in 2004. The family claims the failure to prepare the line caused it to eventually corrode and fail.
Goretzka, 43, told jurors yesterday that the family's life was turned upside down just four days after his wife, Carrie, 39; and daughters, Chloe, then 4, and Carlie, 2, returned from a dream trip to Disney World in Florida.
Goretzka already had told jurors the pair had been sweethearts at Elizabeth Forward High School since 1987 when Mike, then a senior, asked Carrie, a junior, if she could drive him to school following his hernia operation. The couple married on May 4, 1996, and had saved money to move into their West Hempfield Drive home.
Goretzka said he was at work that day as a vice president of Family Home Health Services in Monroeville when he a neighbor called about 4:40 p.m. and told him to get home “right away because of a terrible accident.”
He said he begged the reluctant neighbor to tell him what was wrong.
“I asked him if it was the kids, and he said no. He said I needed to leave right away. ... Finally he told me Carrie was electrocuted,” Goretzka said.
“I didn't even hang up the phone. I just dropped it on my desk and ran out to my truck and drove as fast as I could,” he said.
When he reached his street, Goretzka said, emergency crews told him his wife was being flown to UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Goretzka said he drove to the landing zone at West Hempfield Elementary School, where Carrie was still being treated in the ambulance. Her injuries were so severe that ambulance personnel were reluctant to let him see her.
“I told him, ‘No one's going to stop me,' and went in the ambulance. I saw her shirt was peeled back. ... It was burned off and they were treating her,” he said.
“She made a horrific movement lifting off the stretcher and groaned. ... It didn't sound human. I didn't realize how bad she was,” Goretzka said.
Goretzka said he leaned over and whispered, “Don't give up on me. We've got to fight this.”
Goretzka said he then checked on his children, who had seen their mother lie burning beneath the wires, and his mother, Joann, whose hands were burned when she attempted to rescue her. He said they were at a neighbor's home.
“When I came in, the girls, I think they thought everything was going to be all right ‘cause Daddy was there, and they jumped up on me,” Goretzka said.
The next morning, Goretzka said, he argued with doctors who said they had to amputate his wife's left arm at the shoulder. Goretzka said he relented after doctors said Carrie would die without the surgery.
Carrie never regained consciousness. Three days after the incident, she died in her sleep. Goretzka said he was at her side but never got to say goodbye.
Under questioning by the family's attorney, Shanin Specter of Philadelphia, Goretzka talked about his concerns when the power line fell in 2003 and again in 2004. He had written and emailed the company over concerns about his family's “well-being” because of the repeated line failures.
The company eventually paid Goretzka an undisclosed monetary settlement over damage to his trees and lawn. Goretzka told jurors he never got an explanation over the previous line failures.
“I wasn't interested in the money (in 2004). I wanted to know why the line came down twice,” he said.
Goretzka said he feels guilty about the accident.
“I'm supposed to be there to protect her,” he said.
He said he devotes his life to caring for his daughters. He said family members, particularly his mother and sister, have given “immeasurable help.”
“I thought about moving after this. ... I didn't want to go back to that house after what happened. But then I thought about the girls. Their mother had been taken away and this was their only home and I didn't want to take that away, too,” he said.
“It's been overwhelming (since Carrie's death). I didn't really know what to do with kids because Carrie did everything for them. ... She was really a doting mother,” he said.
Goretzka testified he has learned a lot about raising his daughters in the past 3 1⁄2 years.
“Everything is about the girls now. I promised Carrie. ... I'm doing the best I can, and I've got a great family to help,” he said. “But we're not their mother. ... Nobody can replace a mother.”
The Goretzka daughters made a brief appearance in court at the beginning of their father's testimony as he described their activities. Both attend Queen of Angels School in North Huntingdon.
Following Goretzka's testimony, the family rested its case. West Penn Power will begin its defense Thursday morning before Judge Michael A. Della Vecchia.
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.