After Investigation, Maryland Still in the Dark Over Lighting Malfunction
Emily Pollock posted on November 08, 2018 |
The MGM National Harbor, the site of an ongoing investigation into why a lighting rail malfunctioned and sent 120V of electricity through a child that touched it. (Image courtesy of MGM National Harbour.)
The MGM National Harbor, the site of an ongoing investigation into why a lighting rail malfunctioned and sent 120V of electricity through a child that touched it. (Image courtesy of MGM National Harbour.)

An investigation into a lighting installation that badly electrocuted a child at Maryland’s MGM National Harbor has uncovered “terrible” wiring in nearby installations. Now, the question is: how were the defects missed during construction and permitting?

Back in June, six-year-old Zynae Green was swinging on a lighted handrail when she was exposed to the 120V electric current running through the rail. She was badly injured and two other people at the scene, including the security guard who removed her from the rail, received non-life-threatening injuries. After the incident, the county commissioned an independent forensic engineering report from Forensics Analysis & Engineering.

The report, written by electrical engineer Brian Gsell, found that the most likely cause for the electrocution was faulty wiring. Gsell said that the work was “terrible” and that it ranked among the “sloppiest work” he has ever seen. His report found that the “wrong type of electrical wiring” had been installed, and that the railings had been installed at too shallow a depth. The depth meant that the railing moved in place, which led to movement that wore away the protective coating around the wires.

Gsell also found fault with the LED driver, a device meant to step down the 120-volt current flowing into the railing down to 12 volts for the LED lights. According to his report, one of the drivers was installed incorrectly, and "had smoke staining and was leaking a tar-like substance." By Gsell’s estimate, the LED driver likely failed two days before the incident, likely due to the incorrect installation.

But while the investigation has revealed what went wrong, it hasn’t provided any clues as to why it was allowed to get to that point. According to Police Chief Hank Stawinski, the investigation hasn’t yet found a "single point of failure."

The MGM Harbour was completed in late 2016, with Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. as its general contractor. Both the electrical work and the inspection work were contracted out to third parties, although the government has not revealed either of the parties in question.

Haitham Hijazi, the head of the county’s Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement, speculated that the problem stemmed from the third-party inspectors. In a press conference, he said that the inspectors “probably didn’t inspect” at all, and that they “violated their own code of ethics.” Similar problems with third-party inspection are also a possible culprit in the case of the cracked beam at the Transbay Terminal this October, with reports from 2016 showing that quality assurance inspectors were stretched thin. Hijazi says that it might be time to rethink the entire process of third-party inspection, which hasn’t changed in the county since 2001.

But there’s another possible explanation: corruption. According to a court report quoted by the Washington Post, a third-party electrical engineer said he was pressured to accept work he didn’t believe was code-compliant. “We will find the truth in this,” said State Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, in a press conference on the ongoing investigation. “If that includes public corruption, so be it.”


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