Hidden Danger: Soldiers Dying From Electrocution

A dozen soldiers in Iraq have died in short-circuit accidents, says congressman

ByABC News
March 20, 2008, 2:39 PM

March 20, 2008 — -- During his two tours of duty serving as a special forces soldier in Iraq, Ryan D. Maseth had cheated death on more than a few occasions.

While protecting a Baghdad polling place in December 2005, he ran toward enemy fire to help his fellow soldiers and to repel the attack. And after a Humvee in his convoy once hit an improvised explosive device, Maseth escaped injury and apprehended the perpetrators.

But little did the staff sergeant know that when he stepped into the shower at his military base in Baghdad two months ago, he was putting his life at risk.

Maseth, 24, of Shaler, Pa., outside Pittsburgh, was electrocuted on Jan. 2 when an improperly grounded electric water pump short-circuited and flowed through the pipes. Since the coiled hose was touching his arm, he was hit with an electrical jolt and went into cardiac arrest and died.

Maseth's tragic death brings to 12 the number of soldiers who have died in Iraq due to accidental electrocution, according to Army and Marine e-mails obtained by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

By comparison, there were 250 occupational fatalities due to electrocution among all workers in the United States in 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now Maseth's family and some members of Congress are demanding answers to their questions about why these tragic fatalities continue to occur despite the Pentagon's knowledge of the risks of electrocution since 2004.

"I have three sons in the military," Maseth's mother, Cheryl A. Harris, told ABCNews.com. "Ryan's twin brother Brandon is on his third tour of duty right now. I understand the risks full well, but I struggle with getting my mind around how Ryan died, something so simple as getting into a shower."

A Pentagon spokesman said that the matter has been turned over to the department's inspector general for a full investigation.

Meanwhile, Harris and Maseth's father Douglas Maseth have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in a Pennsylvania state court against Kellogg Brown Root, the contractor hired to maintain and repair the electrical infrastructure at the Radwaniyah Palace complex in Baghdad, one of Saddam Hussein's former estates, where her son lived.

She claims that KBR had been aware of the problems with the electrical system at the complex since February 2007, citing reports from the contractor and the Army's Criminal Investigation Division she was shown during meetings with Army personnel.