Dangerous Utility Poles are a Cause for Concern in Communities Across Massachusetts

BOSTON (WHDH) - “I thought I was going to die,” Satisha Cleckley recalls. “I thought my daughter was gonna die. That’s what frightened me the most.”

They were trapped in a car covered with live wires, and Cleckley had just seconds to get her 3-year-old daughter out of her car seat before the car blew up.

“It literally blew up. All that was left of it was the frame.”

It happened in June of 2013. Satisha was driving on Erie Street in Dorchester when a utility pole came crashing down onto her car. The transformers hit the hood, which immediately caught on fire. Inside the car were her young daughter and three others, including another child.

“I can’t believe we made it out of there under the circumstances,” she says. “I almost lost everything. Not just my life, but my daughter.”

This was the first time the utility pole at this corner came down. Three years later, a second pole at the same location also fell. And 7News has learned this is just one of the many dangers with utility poles.

City of Salem electrician John Giardi says it’s a problem statewide.

“These poles are becoming an issue to the point that people’s lives are at stake,” he said.

Cities and towns notify the utility companies about dangerous or damaged poles that need to be replaced. But Giardi says the wait can be very long. He shows us a crew replacing a pole along a busy intersection, and tells us he’s been waiting two years.

“If we squawk loud enough, they’ll come fix them”, he says. “But if we don’t keep on their backs, they’re not coming. It’s a major concern.”

And many times the fix is temporary and that creates another problem. The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities is the agency that keeps track of the damaged poles that are attached to newer ones – becoming what’s called a “double pole”. They’re designed to be a temporary fix, but 7News has learned there are more than 30,000 of them on the agency’s list and hundreds of those have been on it for more than 10 years. One in East Boston was put on the list in 2004, and is still in place.

“To be honest with you, it’s a little embarrassing” says State Rep. Ted Speliotis. He says the poles are a problem because there’s no enforcement or penalty for utility companies that are slow to fix them.

“This is not rocket science” he says. “Just remove a pole when you add a new pole and if it’s a problem you have to figure out a way to deal with that. It seems like it has to be a crisis situation.”

That’s because for years the Massachusetts legislature has been trying to pass bills that would fine the utility companies if they fail to replace the poles within a matter of months. But the bill never got passed.

None of that matters to Satisha, who says a dangerous pole nearly destroyed her life. She’s now filed a lawsuit against the power companies responsible for maintaining the pole.

“I don’t think they’re doing anything to prevent this from happening again to someone else” she says. “What would have happened if we died?”

We contacted the utility companies that own the poles. The companies say replacing the poles is complicated because the wires on the poles belong to several different power companies, and coordinating the transfer to new poles takes time.

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