DETROIT (WXYZ) - The Action News Investigators are exposing a mess in Detroit’s Public Lighting Department.
Entire neighborhoods are in the dark for weeks, or even months at a time. Citizen complaints about street light outages are at an all-time high and only a small fraction are being addressed.
Public Lighting’s infrastructure is rotting away, and now there’s been a human casualty; a Public Lighting employee who was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong city.
Thirty-three-year-old Mark Roseman was a cable splicer for the Public Lighting Department. Now, instead of going to work, he spends hours at the Detroit Rehabilitation Institute undergoing painful physical therapy.
Roseman endured severe burns on the upper part of his body. He’s hurting, inside and out.
“I just want to get better. This is summer you know. I‘m supposed to be out playing basketball, you know. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to cry,” Roseman told Action News Investigator Scott Lewis as he wiped away tears.
On June 5 Roseman was down in a manhole at Sixth Street and Lafayette in Detroit splicing a 24,000 volt cable that had failed. The cable he was fixing was de-energized but several others in the manhole were still hot and one of them suddenly exploded.
“Honestly, I just started calling Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” Roseman said, explaining that his first thought was that he was going to die.
Then Roseman’s partner lowered a ladder into the manhole.
He said, "If you can see this ladder come on up, come on up Mark. So I saw the ladder and I said alright, I can still see. So I just started climbing up the ladder and got out.”
Roseman was rushed to the hospital and stabilized. He’s lucky to be alive.
There’s no question he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but his lawyer, Carl Edwards says it could have been prevented.
“This is planned obsolescence Scott, this is no accident,” Edwards told Scott Lewis.
To understand why Edwards is blaming the city, you need to know more about what Detroit’s Public Lighting Department does and why Roseman was down in the manhole on that fateful June day.
A lot of the poles and wires lining city streets belong to Detroit’s Public Lighting Department. They supply power to streetlights, traffic signals and a lot of public buildings.
But there’s also a part of the system you don’t see, an underground network of high voltage cables stretching nearly a hundred miles. These massive braided copper wires carry up to 24,000 volts to substations where the voltage is lowered and sent out to service the city.
The big underground cables are spliced together in manholes spaced across the city. When a cable fails, Public Lighting employees like Roseman climb down into the manholes and splice in new pieces of cable.
Roseman’s attorney says these underground cables are failing at an alarming rate. A year ago, Edwards says, the city was experiencing about five or six failures per month. Now the city is averaging about 25 per month.
“This is major cable failures and explosions a month. You have a crisis,” Edwards said.
Numerous Public Lighting Department employees are telling Action News that the system is falling apart because of poor management, a lack of capital investment and virtually no preventive maintenance.
“It’s really sad how bad it’s getting there. And they’re just not putting money into it, they're really not,” said Roseman.
And you don’t have to take Roseman’s word for it, just drive around the city and see for yourself.
You’ll see than many, if not most light poles in the city are missing inspection covers exposing the public to energized wires. Many street light poles are so rusted they’re just falling over. Often the rusty stumps are left behind.
Entire city neighborhoods and stretches of heavily traveled streets are pitch-black, and complaints about street lights are at an all time high.
“Out of the 400 complaints that we’ve had this year beginning January 1, only 11 have been repaired, or replaced,” said Detroit Ombudsman Durene Brown who’s responsible for fielding and investigating complaints from city residents.
Our Action News investigation reveals that the city’s underground cable network is also in poor condition. High voltage underground cables are held in place by brackets. Workers say a lot of them are badly rusted and are not properly supporting the high voltage cables.
Channel 7 got video of rusted supports and pictures in one manhole where the bracket had fallen off leaving the high voltage cable dangling and under stress. In another manhole, we saw a cable being supported by stacked-up plastic milk crates.
“So, what’s going to happen? You’re going to have more cable failures and explosions,” said attorney Edwards.
Detroit’s Public Lighting Department also has serious safety issues according to PLD workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union that represents them.
The union says Public Lighting workers don't have the proper safety equipment. They say Mark