One spot­light that held firm

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

Fol­low­ing re­ports in the Amer­icanStatesman, the U.S. Con­sumer Prod­uct Safety Com­mis­sion an­nounced a re­call of sta­dium light­ing polls that crashed with­out warn­ing.

The light­ing poles were man­u­fac­tured in Fort Worth by the now-bank­rupt Whitco Co. LLP. As first re­ported in April 2009 by the Amer­i­can-States­man’s Eric Dex­heimer, about a dozen of the sta­dium light­ing poles sold by Whitco de­vel­oped cracks at the base and fell over, mostly in Texas pub­lic school fa­cil­i­ties. In Cen­tral Texas, Round Rock and Hays County schools ex­pe­ri­enced light­ing pole col­lapses.

For­tu­nately, no one was re­ported in­jured in any of the in­ci­dents. There were some close calls, how­ever.

In Hays County, a 125-foot pole top­pled at the district’s Bob Shel­ton Sta­dium and landed on a high school gym­na­sium. There were 60 peo­ple in the sta­dium when the pole fell.

A month later, a Whitco pole fell in Union­town, Pa. The fall­ing pole crushed bleach­ers and landed on the field. Had it not been for bad weather, chil­dren would have been on the field.

Whitco poles also have fallen in Mas­sachusetts, Ken­tucky, Mis­sis­sippi and South Dakota. Dex­heimer re­ported in Tues­day’s Amer­i­can-States­man that foren­sic re­ports on the fail­ure of the poles have reached dif­fer­ing con­clu­sions. Some in­ves­ti­ga­tors blamed vi­bra­tion caused by high winds for the top­pled poles. Oth­ers have blamed de­sign and weld­ing flaws for the fail­ures.

What­ever the rea­son, the prod­uct safety com­mis­sion took the first nec­es­sary step in re­call­ing the poles. “Con­sumers should im­me­di­ately stop us­ing re­called prod­ucts un­til they are in­spected and re­paired,” the fed­eral re­call no­tice states.

De­ter­min­ing the cause of the fail­ure would es­tab­lish re­spon­si­bil­ity. That no one was hurt was hap­pen­stance. The chances that school dis­tricts and sta­dium own­ers that bought the poles will ever get their money back, how­ever, are highly re­mote.

Nonethe­less, the mat­ter shouldn’t end there. Pros­e­cu­tors should in­quire about po­ten­tial crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity in the mat­ter. While it is ir­re­spon­si­ble to sug­gest crim­i­nal con­duct at this point, it would be equally ir­re­spon­si­ble not to in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter thor­oughly.

Be­cause of the com­pany’s bank­ruptcy, school district tax­pay­ers bear the costs of re­pairs and re­place­ments to their fa­cil­i­ties. Hays County spent nearly $700,000 re­plac­ing light tow­ers and re­pair­ing dam­age.

That’s money the district isn’t likely to re­cover. It is noth­ing, how­ever, com­pared to what the costs would have been had the light­ing pole in­jured or killed any­one.

Dex­heimer’s re­port­ing called at­ten­tion to the sit­u­a­tion and thereby played a part in end­ing a re­liance on luck to main­tain the safety of the young­sters who play in Texas sta­di­ums and the spec­ta­tors who watch them.

rodolfo Gon­za­lez AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

re­ports in the amer­icanstatesman on sta­dium light­ing poles man­u­fac­tured by Whitco Co. llP that de­vel­oped cracks and top­pled over have led to a prod­uct re­call. a large crack in the metal pole near its base an­chor is seen on this pole re­moved from bob shel­ton sta­dium in hays County in 2009.

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