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Contact Voltage: The Invisible Danger That Killed Our Daughter

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By Mr. Anthony "Bubba' Green & Mrs. Nancy A. Green

On May 5, 2006, our daughter, Deanna Camille Green, was electrocuted and killed after she touched a normal everyday fence that was electrified by current leaking from a faulty underground electric cable. We now know, this dangerous condition known as contact voltage has taken the lives of countless people and pets across the country.

May 5 started as a typical day for the Green family, but would end in tragedy at approximately 8:30 pm. Our lives would never again be the same. Dad took Deanna to school and as he dropped her off, he told her he loved her and would see her on Sunday because he was going to the Men's Retreat for Church. I took our son, Tony to school that morning, knowing he would somehow make it to end his day on the sales floor at work. As I headed to work I was anxiously anticipating picking Deanna up at the end of the work day for the start of a weekend with a double-header softball game.

At about 5:15 p.m. Deanna and I started our drive into the City for the game. Along the way we stopped for a bite to eat, shared some girl talk about starting high school, plans for the summer, driving and singing. During a pause in our conversation, I reached over and stoked her cheek and told her I loved her, not knowing this would be the last time she would hear me say those words.

Once we arrived at the park and Deanna changed into the black slacks I had brought with me as "a just in case she forgot," both teams gathered at the pitcher's mound for prayer. Around the bottom of the first inning it was starting to get dark. The umpire went to the box, flipped the switch and turned on the field lights. Little did we know, he had just turned on the death switch.

Death is difficult. Seeing death come is difficult. Electricity is a silent killer. Unless you've seen your child electrocuted right before your eyes, you can never know how I feel. You can never understand what I experienced that horrific day, everyday, and for all the days to come. No one can know of my helplessness. No one can understand how worthless I felt as a mother that night when I failed to protect my daughter.

On May 5, 2006 in Baltimore, Maryland, Deanna Camille Green, at the tender age of fourteen was electrocuted on a metal safety fence that had become electrified by electricity leaking from damaged underground cable.

Since Deanna's death, we have educated ourselves about the danger that killed our daughter. When underground electric utility cable has reached its useful life or become damaged, it can leak electricity. Electricity is not selective. It energizes all conductive surfaces in its proximity including sidewalks, manholes, roadways, and fences that people and pets come in contact with.

Those conductive surfaces must be tested to find and fix hazards buried beneath the ground. While all surface level structures are not owned by utilities, the buried cable beneath them certainly is, and it is the source of these hazards.

In 2011, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) passed a set of regulations requiring utilities to perform comprehensive contact voltage tests in city parks. This will ensure public safety in our parks by testing all structures and surfaces capable of conducting electricity. Unfortunately, the Maryland regulations ignore the greater risk in our streets, around our schools, or in our neighborhoods.

The Maryland PSC has defined certain cities and public areas as "Contact Voltage Risk Zones." Within these zones, current Maryland regulations call for utilities to test only manhole covers and streetlights for leaking voltage. Since contact voltage is the result of failing underground cable, tests of manhole covers and streetlights ignore the greatest area of risk stemming from the aging and leaking buried cable beneath our feet. It was a leaking underground cable that killed our daughter, not a manhole or streetlight.

To address this issue, Maryland State legislators have filed a bill requiring utilities to perform testing of all energized conductive surfaces in our streets, just as they are required to perform in our parks. These tests have been performed across New York City for years and have proven successful in reducing public shock incidents.

There is no excuse or justification for the PSC and utilities to provide greater safety in parks than the areas they call "Risk Zones" where we live, work, and play.

If utilities are allowed to ignore various structures their equipment has electrified, who will test and fix them? Should the postal service test their mailboxes for voltage leaks caused by the utility? Should business owners test their fences for underground utility cable faults? Should residents test the sidewalks in front of their homes for utility cable leaks in the ground beneath them? Utilities cannot be allowed ignore any structure or surface which their aging infrastructure has caused to become an electrified public hazard.

Our mission is to prevent others from going through what we have suffered. We never heard of this danger until it was too late. As members of the public, we rely on our utilities and the PSC to keep our family safe from such problems. We urge readers to reach out to the Maryland's House Economic Matter committee and Public Utilities Subcommittee and urge them to pass House Bill 520 to make our streets safe for pedestrians and pets.

By voting in favor of this House Bill 520, legislators have a chance to speak on behalf of the families and lives this bill will protect. We would give anything to have been afforded those same protections.

Anthony "Bubba" Green is a former NFL defensive lineman. He and his wife Nancy lost their daughter Deanna Green in 2006 when she was electrocuted by contact voltage in Baltimore, Maryland. Following Deanna's death, Mr. and Mrs. Green embarked on a mission to educate others about the dangers posed by aging electrical infrastructure, and advocate for improvements in public electrical safety. The Green's story has been featured by major national news outlets including CBS, FOX, and NBC. The Green's were recently recognized by the National Black Caucus of State Legislators when the organization adopted a resolution adding the contact voltage to their 2012 policy agenda.