NYSEG, Wilmington supervisor clash over crash

A state trooper walks along the Whiteface Memorial Highway in Wilmington Sunday on the scene of a car crash, which took down a power pole and exposed live wires. (Photo provided — Stephen Yerger)

WILMINGTON — A New York State Electric and Gas Corporation representative said NYSEG crews responded as quickly as they could to downed power pole and exposed live wires after a car crash in this town Sunday afternoon.

A car heading down the Whiteface Memorial Highway jumped a guard rail, hit a power pole and got stuck in a tree.

The passengers — a male and a female — were hurt and trapped in their vehicle for nearly two hours because live power lines and a half-acre fire kept fire crews from getting to them in a timely fashion. Town Supervisor Randy Preston said the passengers could’ve been helped sooner if the NYSEG had just turned off the grid.

“People were seriously hurt,” Preston said. “This was a life-or-death situation, and NYSEG would not turn off the power.”

Kevin Ortiz, a spokesperson for NYSEG, said in phone interview Monday that work crews were immediately dispatched once they received calls from Wilmington, although it took them an hour to get there.

According to Ortiz, NYSEG received a call at 1:10 p.m., and crews were dispatched at 1:15 p.m. They arrived at 2:10, and by that time, first responders had already removed the occupants of the crashed vehicle. At 2:30 p.m. the power lines were grounded and made safe. A few customers lost their power because of this. By 4 p.m. power was restored to all but one of the 42 customers affected by the shutoff.

The live wires were across the road about 30 feet away from the car.

With traffic backed up on both sides of the road, fire crews eventually got to the car, having to duck underneath utility lines and walk through the woods. They used hydraulic rescue tools to free the woman from the car. Crews then had to carry the passengers away from the scene, still avoiding live wires. The woman was helicoptered to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, Vermont, by North Country Life Flight. A Lake Placid ambulance transported the man, but Preston wasn’t sure what hospital they brought him to. The Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Department provided mutual aid. The identities and conditions of the male and female are unavailable at this time.

Preston’s timeline doesn’t match up with Ortiz’s. Preston said, according to records from Essex County’s radio dispatch, the calls went out to NYSEG at 12:42 p.m., and a few minutes later, a NYSEG representative responded, saying the damaged pole wasn’t theirs. However, all of the power poles and lines in Wilmington are NYSEG’s. Preston said that it wasn’t until 1:55 p.m. that NYSEG dispatched a crew with an estimated time of arrival of 30 minutes. Preston said he called the governor’s office twice at around 2:05 p.m. to complain about NYSEG’s slow response.

“That kicked NYSEG in the backside, and things happened a lot faster,” he said.

However, right before those calls to the capital, Preston said the state Department of Environmental Conservation reported seeing NYSEG trucks en route to Wilmington in Black Brook, which is only about 10 minutes away by car.

Preston said he thinks NYSEG delayed responding because the corporation doesn’t want to pay its workers overtime.

“That’s the bottom line with them,” he said.

Preston said he was filing a complaint with the governor’s office Monday, because this is apparently not the first time NYSEG didn’t react as quickly as he would’ve preferred. Preston said NYSEG didn’t respond to a power outage this past March in a timely fashion, either.

“The temperature hovered around zero, and it took hours for NYSEG to respond,” he said. “Only when I contacted governor’s office did they do anything. That could’ve been a very bad situation. We’ve got a lot of seniors in Wilmington. For power to be off for two to three hours, it’s unacceptable. They shouldn’t be operating in the state if they can’t take things more seriously.”

Ortiz couldn’t comment to that specific case, but he said NYSEG is properly prepared for winter storms.