OSHA cites contractors involved in Sun Prairie explosion

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SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WMTV) -- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited two contractors for their involvement in a deadly explosion in Sun Prairie.

Bear Communications, LLC and VC Tech Inc. were each issued a serious safety violation and face penalties of $12,934 each. OSHA states that is the maximum penalty allowed.

On July 10, 2017, an explosion in downtown Sun Prairie killed Sun Prairie Fire Captain Cory Barr and injured several others. Authorities said an unmarked gas line was cut, resulting in a gas leak.

According to OSHA, neither Bear Communications or VC Tech contacted utility companies or owners "within established or customary local response times, advised of proposed work, and asked to establish the location of the utility underground installations prior to the start of an evacuation."

OSHA also states Bear Communications did not contact Diggers Hotline before digging to install a fiber optic line. According to OSHA, VC Tech also did not contact the one-call center prior to excavation.

“Excavators are required to train their employees on procedures for determining the location of underground utilities, and contact the utility company before opening an excavation” said Madison Office Area Director Chad Greenwood in a press release from the U.S. Department of Labor Thursday.

Diggers Hotline helps obtain information on the location of underground facilities and safe working distances from overhead lines.

Both companies have 15 working days to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. VC Tech and Bear Communications were informed of the citations on January 4.

"This error appears to be the result of miscommunication between USIC, Bear Communications, Jet Underground, and VC Tech," said Sun Prairie Police Chief Patrick Anhalt in December.

Authorities say Verizon Wireless first contracted Bear Communications for an underground fiber installation project. Bear Communications subcontracted Jet Underground to perform the construction.

The Sun Prairie mayor, Paul Esser, said he supported the action OSHA took.

"Hopefully that prevents somebody else from doing this, being careless or whatever caused it - that part of it is good. But in the need when you're all done, Cory Barr is still gone, and this has done nothing to improve that situation and never will," Esser said.

Before the work began, Bear Communications switched subcontractors to VC Tech.

In November, court documents found a contractor failed to properly mark a natural gas line that was hit by crews laying fiber optic lines.

Abigail Barr, the wife of Capt. Cory Barr, filed a wrongful death and construction negligence lawsuit in December. Attorneys representing Barr also represent Sun Prairie firefighters Ryan Welch and Greg Pavlik, who were injured in the explosion. They are suing for construction negligence and for their injuries obtained from the explosion.

Officials determined there is no probable cause to file criminal charges for the explosion.