Arson or Accident?

electrical-engineering-fire

Ronald J. Panunto, PE, CFEI, Electrical Engineering Consultant ::::
Case Synopsis: The state police, with the assistance of the ATF, indicted a female church parishioner for setting a fire in a church located in upstate Pennsylvania. Through investigation, it was found that several of the women who assisted the pastor of the church were vying for his attention, which police believed to be a possible motive
The fire occurred in the pastor’s office, and the state police called in the ATF to check for accelerants. Even though the ATF was unable to confirm the use of accelerants, the state police charged the woman parishioner with intentionally starting the fire.
In examining the evidence retained by the state police, it was found that a space heater was located on a rug underneath of a table where the fire started. The electrical cord to the heater was badly burned and the cord’s conductors had arced.

Result:
The case went to trial where it was demonstrated to the jury that the space heater’s power cord was underneath the space heater and in direct contact with the rug.
It was explained that the heater melted the insulation on the power cord, leading to arcing between the hot and neutral conductors, which in turn ignited nearby combustibles, which included the rug and nearby stacks of paper.
The jury returned a “not guilty” verdict.
Ronald J. Panunto, PE, CFEI, is an Electrical Engineering Consultant with DJS Associates and can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.

Runaway Treadmill

treadmill-injury

Ronald J. Panunto, PE, CFEI, CVFI, CFC, Electrical Engineering Consultant ::::
Case Synopsis: A middle-aged man, while exercising on his motorized treadmill, was injured when the treadmill suddenly accelerated and threw him up against a wall. He sustained injuries to his head, right shoulder and right arm. His attorney put the manufacturer of the treadmill and the store that sold it on notice.
Expert Analysis: A review of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalls showed that the incident treadmill had been recalled at least 8 years before our client’s accident, and that there was a second recall just 1 year before the accident. The recall said:
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Utility Company’s Slow Response “Sparks” Concern

power-lines-electric-engineer-expert

Ronald J. Panunto, PE, CFEI, CVFI, CFC, CFPE, Electrical Engineer Consultant ::::
Case Synopsis: A 12-year old girl was badly injured when she inadvertently walked into a low-hanging, energized power line that had fallen from a distribution pole as a result of high winds from Hurricane Sandy. Plaintiff’s counsel retained an expert in order to determine liability on the part of the electric utility company for its poor response to repair the fallen power line.
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Making Machines Safe

Drill Bit

Ronald J. Panunto, P.E., Electrical Engineering Consultant ::::
Case Synopsis: Plaintiff was injured when his core-boring machine struck a rebar and jammed. When the drill bit jammed, the drill carriage broke free, began to turn and slammed into his body. An expert was retained in order to determine if a safety system could be designed whereby the drill motor would stop if the drill bit jammed.
Expert Analysis: An internet search was conducted in order to find a vendor who manufactured speed switches that readily adopted to cylindrical shafts. This was needed in order to sense zero speed on the drill shaft. Upon arrival of the speed switch, a bracket was built to hold the speed sensor attached to the drill carriage. The magnetic split ring speed device was then attached to the drill shaft. Continue reading “Making Machines Safe”

Missing Wires Lead to Fire

House Fire

Ronald J. Panunto, PE, CFEI, CVFI, CFC, Electrical Engineering Consultant ::::
Case Synopsis: A fire occurred on the outside wall of a home. An origin and cause investigation showed that the fire originated from overheated cable TV/communications wiring. The communications company was put on notice and an expert was retained by them to determine their liability, if any.
Expert Analysis: An examination of the communications wiring in the area of origin was completed and it was determined that the green communications ground wire had gotten hot enough to melt the insulation. The insulation then caught on fire, which then caused the siding on the house to catch fire.
The communication ground wire is installed primarily to prevent damage to the communication equipment due to lightning strikes. Under normal circumstances it should never carry any current, so it was a puzzle why it carried an overcurrent high enough to start a fire.
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