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Feds charge owner in worker's death

| Tuesday, July 17, 2012, 6:22 p.m.

A Springdale painting business owner's willful violation of safety regulations caused the electrocution of an employee in 2010, federal prosecutors are charging.

U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton on Tuesday filed a single criminal charge against Thomas C. Caruso, owner of Modern Painting & Decorating.

Caruso could not be reached for comment.

Caruso employed Paul Thompson, 48, of Blawnox.

Thompson died April 7, 2010 when he came in contact with a 7,500-volt power line while working on a roof and painting the outside of a building on Industrial Boulevard in New Kensington.

Thompson was taken to Allegheny Valley Hospital but could not be revived.

Federal prosecutors allege that Thompson died as the result of Caruso's willful violation of standards that require employers "to not permit an employee to work in close proximity to any part of an electric power circuit unless the employee is protected against electric shock by de-energizing and grounding the circuit or by insulating it."

The building Thompson was working on houses the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, a retail outlet selling home improvement and decorating items.

Thompson and a co-worker had been painting the exterior of the upper floor of the building, leaning out from the roof to spray paint along the walls near where power lines were located, Diane Belitskus, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Allegheny Valley, said at the time of the incident.

The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Modern Painting for failing to ensure Thompson's safety. The company paid a total fine of $57,400 for three violations, according to OSHA records.

In addition to one willful violation related to Thompson's electrocution, OSHA inspectors issued two serious violations to the company not providing adequate fall protection or training employes in recognizing and avoiding fall hazards.

Prosecutors requested a summons be issued for Caruso on the criminal charge instead of an arrest warrant.

He is to appear for arraignment at 1 p.m. Aug. 7 at the U.S. Courthouse in Pittsburgh.

Prosecutors are suggesting Caruso be released on his own recognizance.

Caruso faces maximum penalties of no more than six months in prison, a $250,000 fine and one year of supervised release.

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