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Bethlehem tree trimming accident victim identified

Man dies in tree trimming accident

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - A worker trimming trees ahead of Musikfest was killed in an electrical accident Saturday morning. 

It happened around 9:30 a.m. on Sand Island, under the Minsi Trail Bridge in Bethlehem. 

The coroner says the victim worked for Asplundh, a company hired by PPL Electric.  Authorities are not releasing his name at this time.

The victim's girlfriend identified him as Robert Rogers, a longtime tree trimmer.

The accident cut power to several hundred customers on both sides of the river for a few hours.  By Saturday afternoon, PPL had restored most electrical service.

Antonio Lugones and his fiance heard the accident from across the river at the Sands Casino complex.

"We hear two big explosions, like, 'Boom, boom,' and then, like, a flash of flames," he said.

"I heard people screaming, so then I called 911," added his fiance, Heather Hitcho.  "At first I thought it was either an explosion or somebody got shot or something."

At least six Asplundh workers were trimming trees along the trail in preparation for next week's Musikfest, according to PPL spokesman Michael Wood.  The trimming is an annual exercise, he said

"One of the trucks came in contact with a power line," said Northampton Co. Coroner Zachary Lysek.  "There are no other injuries."

Wood said the worker who was killed was in a bucket truck.  The truck caught fire and the worker either jumped or fell into the water below. 

An autopsy will be performed later to determine exactly how the worker died.

Lugones said he will never forget the smell of the electrical accident.

"Just the stench of burning was worse than burning charcoal," he said.  "It was real strong."

Hitcho added:  "I had to put a blanket over my daughter's face to take her out to the store, because it was that bad."

Federal investigators from OSHA were on scene taking photos before the scorched truck was towed away. 

Asplundh would not identify the dead worker or say how long he had been with the company, but Dennis Stapola, vice president of risk management, said, "We are taking this incident very seriously."  Stapola declined further comment.

According to OSHA records, since 2002, three Asplundh tree trimmers have died after coming into contact with power lines. 

Asplundh has more than 28,000 workers in several states across the nation.

"It's horrible and horrifying for someone to die that way," said Lugones.

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