OSHA report released on Copiah cell tower deaths - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

OSHA report released on Copiah cell tower deaths

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Johnny Martone, Jr. Johnny Martone, Jr.
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

"Johnny Martone was 32 years old, a young man who was hard working. He left behind a widow, he left behind three children," says Jackson Attorney Rocky Wilkins.

Back in May, Martone, of Taylorsville, fell 150 feet from a 300-foot cell phone tower in Copiah County.

"There was a catastrophic failure of a metal hook that caused a 1,500 pound gin pole to fall onto Johnny Martone, and then the gin pole and Martone came down and fell and caused Mr. Castelli to fall," he says.

Michael Castelli, age 42, of Baton Rouge also died.

The OSHA report, released this week, cites a number of violations that add up to a $14,000 fine for Byrd Telcom, the Florida-based company that paid the men. Wilkins is co-counsel for Martone's family, although no lawsuit has yet been filed. He says the problem stretches far beyond one company, and one incident.

"It's an epidemic," he says, adding that 100 workers in the United States have died in cell phone tower accidents in the past decade. There was one more in Mississippi, in the Delta, after the May deaths, he says.

Wilkins says large cell phone carriers like AT&T and Verizon are rushing to establish the most powerful networks, and perhaps the industry is moving too quickly.

"There's no real regulations. There's a group, the National Association of Tower Erectors, but the industry doesn't have to follow those guidelines. It goes down to the $8-$10 an hour worker who has the time pressure to work on this tower," he says.

The big carriers are not named in the OSHA report, but Wilkins believes lawsuits on behalf of victims' families will soon start sprouting up.

"They're the ones making the money, they're at the top of the chain, if anybody could change it and make it safer, it's the cell phone companies," he says.

Wilkins says the two men were installing three towers for Verizon when they fell. The large carriers often use subcontractors to do the tower work.

We touched base with the attorney for Byrd Telcom. We are awaiting his comment. 

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