On Feb. 1, four employees from S&S Communications Specialists, an Oklahoma-based contractor, were making structural repairs to a 342-foot-tall SBA cell tower located at 9141 Murphy Road, Clarksburg.
One worker was strapped to the tower about 60 feet off the ground and the other was 20 feet off the ground when it collapsed, police said. The workers, Kyle Kirkpatrick, 32, of Hulbert, Okla., and Terry Lee Richard Jr., 27, of Bokoshe, Okla., were pronounced dead at the scene. Two other workers suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
The tower's collapse put pressure on a support wire, weakening a 327-foot-tall tower nearby. The second tower then collapsed, killing Michael Dale Garrett, 28, of Clarksburg, a member of the Nutter Fort Volunteer Fire Department, who was responding to the scene. Another firefighter was injured.
On Saturday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered state flags in Charleston and Harrison County lowered in memory of Garrett.
The previous deaths at an SBA tower were also caused by equipment failures.
On May 30, Michael A. Castelli, 42, of Baton Rouge, and Johnny Martone, 32, of Taylorsville, Miss., died while working on a 300-foot-tall tower in Georgetown, Miss., a small community about 30 miles south of Jackson.
A large metal hook failed, causing a 1,500-pound pole to fall onto Martone, according to the OSHA report. The pole and Martone then came down, causing Castelli to also fall. OSHA cited Byrd Telecom, the Florida company that hired the two men, approximately $14,000 for several safety violations.
Attorney Rocky Williams, from Jackson, Miss., is suing SBA and others in connection with Martone's death.
Wilkins said companies that own cell towers and the large cellphone carriers - like AT&T and Verizon -- who lease from them don't have any real regulations to follow. They are not subject to OSHA scrutiny, he said, and safety often comes down to the contractors and the employees they hire.
OSHA has never issued a violation to a large cellphone carrier.
In November, James Maddux, OSHA's director of construction, sent an inter-agency memo alerting officials of the rise in accidents and fatalities. OSHA would begin collecting information on these incidents, according to the letter.
A 2012 investigation by ProPublica and PBS's "Frontline" found that tower climbing has a death rate roughly 10 times higher than construction work. The investigation found 93 deaths of tower climbers between 2003 and 2011.
"If there's a demand these towers are going to keep sprouting up," Gray said. "Somebody's got to stand up and say that there's too many people dying here, somebody has got to do something."
Reach Travis Crum at travis.c...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.