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Experts' testimony conflicts in Goretzka electrocution trial

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

An expert witness for West Penn Power Co. on Monday attacked a Hempfield Township family's theory that improper installation of a power line connection caused it to fail and electrocute a mother of two young girls.

Joseph Turek, a metallurgical engineer from Elizabeth, told an Allegheny County jury that pieces of a failed line connection that electrocuted Carrie Goretzka, 39, outside her home on June 2, 2009, showed signs under microscopic examination that it had been wire-brushed prior to installation.

Jurors in the wrongful death case filed by Goretzka's family against the utility company have heard numerous experts who examined the pieces testify during the 11 days of trial that the failed line connections showed no evidence they had been wire-brushed by crewmen before installation as the manufacturer recommends.

Witnesses for the family, including Christopher Havlik, an engineer from Hubbell Power Inc., the manufacturer of the splice connection, said that failure to brush the connection likely caused it to overheat, corrode and eventually fail.

The line was installed by utility crewmen in June 2004 after a previous malfunction caused it to fall and burn the lawn and trees outside the Goretzka home at 23 W. Hempfield Drive.

Under questioning by West Penn Power attorney Avrum Levicoff of Pittsburgh, Turek on Monday said the line failure occurred inside the splice, but he added that it did show evidence of being wire-brushed under his microscopic examination.

Levicoff projected photographs Turek took of several marks on the scorched wires on a 12-foot-square overhead screen set up in the courtroom.

“I found some uncharacteristic surface marks on the pieces that were not made from manufacturing of the wire or from routine handling,” Turek said.

Turek corroborated testimony from a previous West Penn Power Co. witness, Dr. Robert Niger Hampton, a research engineer from Georgia Tech, that there are no scientific studies that show improved performance of wire connections that are wire-brushed prior to installation.

Hampton previously told jurors about a 2006 study that demonstrated that splice connections similar to those along the failed line on the Goretzka property showed no performance improvement, including longevity, when they were wire-brushed versus connections that were never wire-brushed.

“There is no published data that showed (improved) impact of wire-brushing,” Turek testified.

Carrie Goretzka's family, including her husband, Michael, and young daughters, Chloe, 8, and Carlie, 6, are seeking unspecified damages against the utility owned by FirstEnergy of Akron, Ohio.

Michael's mother, Joann, is seeking unspecified damages for burns to her hands she suffered when she tried to pull Carrie to safety from beneath the live line.

Carrie Goretzka died three days after the accident in UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh from severe burn injuries.

The case will resume on Tuesday morning before Judge Michael A. Della Vecchia.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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