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Documents: Contractor culpable in Shaler soldier's electrocution

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By Robin Acton
Thursday, July 31, 2008
 

New information contradicts a preliminary Department of Defense report that found no evidence of a military contractor's involvement in the Iraq electrocution of a Shaler soldier.

Staff in the Inspector General's Office did not have all documents and work orders for military contractor KBR Inc. for the building where Sgt. Ryan Maseth died Jan. 2, it was revealed Wednesday during a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Witnesses said the additional documents received by the committee show KBR was informed on several occasions about widespread electrical hazards prior to Maseth's death.

Maseth, an Army Ranger and Green Beret, was killed while taking a shower in his living quarters in the Radwaniyah Palace Complex in Baghdad. An Army investigation revealed his shower's water pump overheated, causing an electrical failure that allowed a current to flow directly from the water pump through metal pipes and into his body.

He was one of at least 16 service members or contractors killed by electrocution in Iraq, the committee learned.

"We don't know whether the inspector general failed to ask for the right documents, which would be a stain on the inspector general's work, or whether the documents were withheld from the inspector general, which would call into question the motives of the Department (of Defense) and KBR. But we do know that these documents appear to contradict the inspector general's findings," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the committee chair.

Earlier, the Defense Department found no evidence to show KBR was aware of life-threatening hazards in Maseth's living quarters. The new information shows KBR received multiple, detailed work order requests to repair electrical deficiencies in Maseth's building.

One work order request from the previous occupant of Maseth's room stated: "Pipes have voltage, get shocked in shower."

"The interim report ignored very, very critical evidence," said attorney Patrick Cavanaugh, who represents Maseth's mother, Cheryl Harris, in a wrongful death lawsuit against Houston-based KBR Inc.

"(Acting Inspector General Gordon) Heddell admitted he didn't have the information, and he's going to go back and get it. You can't look at half of the information and come to a conclusion."

Harris, who testified during earlier hearings, attended the hearing in Washington, but did not participate, Cavanaugh said.

"She's holding up. We continue to stand by our papers," he said, adding that he has "a lot of information" that the Defense Department's report failed to mention. "No one ever called me and asked what I knew. I suspect they'll never get to me."

Jeffrey Parsons, executive director of the Army Contracting Command, admitted during the hearing that the Defense Department does not have the expertise to oversee the electrical work being performed by KBR, the military's largest contractor.

"That's a remarkable admission," Waxman said. "These young heroes might still be alive today if the department had done the proper oversight."

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, told the committee Harris deserves an "honest explanation of what led to the death of her child and accountability for those whose actions may have contributed to an unnecessary death."

Casey said his office has heard from several active duty soldiers who said in recent weeks that soldiers in Iraq "continue to receive shocks on a regular basis as they carry out their daily activities, including taking showers."

 

 
 


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