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2 Investigators: Rusty Light Poles A Danger Across Chicago

(CBS) -- Rusty, dangerous light poles are posing a danger to pedestrians and motorists. Hundreds have fallen over and dozens of people have been injured.

CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini found them all over the city. When he started complaining, the city started making repairs.

From Lake Shore Drive to Garfield Parkway and all over the Northwest Side, CBS 2 found rusted and dilapidated light poles some that appear ready to fall.

Potentially dangerous poles were even near Betty Shabazz International Charter School, where years earlier a problem pole fell on Karen Nelson's daughter.

"My daughter was crushed," Karen Nelson says of her child, Noni Brown, who suffered a spinal injury.

The 2 Investigators began inspecting poles after Jamie Beck called to report one that fell along Forest Preserve Drive. CBS 2 found a compromised pole nearby, at Irving Park and Cumberland, which was rusted out and missing much of its support. In fact, miles of poles with significant rust damage were found by the 2 Investigators.

"It makes me very afraid for my family when we drive anywhere," Beck says. "It's gross negligence. Whatever department is supposed to be maintaining this, isn't doing their job."

CBS 2 obtained 311 records showing that since 2013 there have been 307 calls for fallen or leaning light poles, with 49 callers reporting injuries.

Dr. Sammy Tin, a metallurgy expert at the Illinois Institute of Technology, says the light pole problem is significant. In response to the condition of poles CBS 2 showed him, Tin says: "Yes, that is very, very dangerous."

Poles missing access panels, or ones mounted on hollow metal bases, collect rain and road salt and could corrode quickly, he says.

CBS 2 reported the findings to the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) in August, and the city agency started making some repairs. CDOT fixed the one at Irving Park and Cumberland, but they just painted right over other locations in need of repairs.

Back at the Betty Shabazz International Charter School, CBS 2 found wobbly light poles by the school and park where 13-year-old Noni Brown was crushed during recess in the winter of 2007.

"She was in intensive care for two weeks," says Karen Nelson, who was upset by the latest condition of the poles in that same area.

Two poles where children walk and play were severed at the base.

"This is so unsafe," Nelson says.

The 2 Investigators called 3-1-1 and police and notified the fire department, too.

"We can't make them come out and do anything," one fireman says. "They are their own department."

After more than a month and CBS 2's repeated calls, a crew last week replaced the broken poles near the school.

A CDOT spokesman says they prioritize light pole repairs based on imminent danger and says about 50 poles a week get fixed.

Since 2013, the city paid out more than $63,000 for minor damage caused by light poles. They did not tell us the cost on bigger claims. In Noni Brown's case, she was given nearly $600,000.


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