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Last Update: February 7, 2006 2:59 PM

Tent company cited in Jamboree deaths

ELECTROCUTION: OSHA fines company $5,600, says workers not properly trained.

Workers responsible for putting up the tent involved in the electrocutions of four Boy Scout leaders last summer were not properly trained or qualified for the job, a federal investigation concluded.

Three of the Scout leaders killed at the big National Scout Jamboree were Alaskans and the fourth had recently left the state.

The tent company, Tents and Events Inc. of Fishersville, Va., faces fines totaling $5,600 for two serious violations of safety standards, according to findings released Thursday by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The company has since gone out of business.

Tents and Events sent two workers to the Jamboree on July 25 to erect a huge white tent -- OSHA said it was 40 feet by 40 feet -- rented by Alaska troops for group gatherings.

After some Scouts struggled to get the tent up, the four leaders took over. They were electrocuted when the center pole touched an overhead power line.

Killed were Michael Shibe, 49, a foreman at Alaska Communications Systems; Michael LaCroix, 42, general manager of VendAlaska; Ronald Bitzer, 58, a retired lawyer and administrative judge; and Scott Powell, 57, who served as resident ranger at Camp Gorsuch before he retired and left Alaska for a family cabin in Ohio last year. Shibe was at the Jamboree with his twin sons; LaCroix also was there with a son.

A fifth Scout leader was injured, as were both tent company workers. One suffered burns and was hospitalized.

Dozens of people were interviewed during the months-long investigation, which also included visits to the Jamboree site at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, said Tom Pope, area director of OSHA in Norfolk, Va.

"Employees were not adequately trained or familiar with the requirements of electrical safety work practices, nor were they adequately trained or familiar with the recognition of hazards associated with their respective work assignments in the erecting of tents, with conductive parts," the citation said.

OSHA also faulted the company because the workers brought the aluminum center pole too close to "unguarded, energized overhead lines," according to the citation. Given their lack of qualification to work near live lines, the pole -- 28 feet, 8 inches tall -- should have been kept at least 10 feet away, OSHA said.

The tent company had no history of safety problems with OSHA.

The violations were classified as "serious" rather than "willful." The latter is used when a company knows about a safety hazard and fails to address it, Pope said. Most violations are termed serious, he said.

Tents and Events cooperated fully with OSHA during the investigation, said Mike Harman, a Richmond, Va., attorney who represents the business.

"There were no findings of any intentional misconduct," Harman said.

The company's representatives have asked for an informal conference with OSHA. They also can ask for a hearing if they want to formally contest the findings, said Pope, the OSHA official.

Even though the tent business is closed, the former owner still has responsibility for what happened, he said.

"If they go back into business, we will talk to them about things they need to do, training they need to do," Pope said.

The deaths occurred on the opening day of Jamboree. The event drew an estimated 43,000 Scouts, volunteers and staff members to the Fort A.P. Hill Army base in Caroline County, Va.

The U.S. Army concluded that the electrocutions were an accident.

The Boy Scouts of America are still evaluating their own safety rules and likely will make changes before the next National Scout Jamboree, set for 2010 at Fort A.P. Hill, said national Scout spokesman Gregg Shields.

Neither Harman nor Shields was aware of any lawsuits filed over the tent incident.


Daily News reporter Lisa Demer can be reached at ldemer@adn.com and 257-4390.


FOR A COMPLETE archive of stories about the tragic events that occurred at last year's Jamboree, go to www.adn.com/news/alaska/scouting