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Pittsburgh teacher riding bicycle electrocuted by downed power line in North Park

Teacher riding bicycle in Pittsburgh park electrocuted
Teacher riding bicycle in Pittsburgh park electrocuted 02:39

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A Pittsburgh-area high school teacher died after he was riding his bicycle in a park and hit a downed power line on Tuesday night. 

First responders got called to the trail near Olympia Grove by Pearce Mill Road just before 8:30 p.m. Allegheny County police said when they arrived, they found 63-year-old Robert Anderson of Wexford on the ground among live wires, but they couldn't reach him and contacted Duquesne Light for help.

Around 10:30 p.m., crews from the company cut power to the area and first responders pronounced Anderson dead on the scene. The medical examiner ruled his cause of death high voltage electrocution. 

(Photo: KDKA)

Through their investigation, police said early information shows the power company first learned of the downed lines nearly 12 hours earlier when dispatch received a report of wires down and smoking on the trail at 8:40 a.m. At that time, investigators blocked it off with caution tape where the wires crossed the trail and at the main entrance to Olympia Grove.

A spokesperson for Duquesne Light released a statement, saying, "We are deeply saddened by this tragic accident and our hearts go out to his family during this difficult time."

Anderson was a physical education and health teacher at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh for almost 20 years. 

"Throughout his time at our school, Mr. Anderson played an important role in educating students on the need for personal health and wellness," the school's president said in a letter to the community. "Mr. Anderson was dedicated to the students entrusted to his care and the mission of Central Catholic. Everyone who knew him mourns his passing, as he was an integral member of our school's community."

Central Catholic High School teacher Robert Anderson died after he was riding his bike and hit downed power lines in North Park.  (Photo: Central Catholic High School)

As a veteran biker, when Robert Burleson geared up for another ride at North Park Wednesday morning, he couldn't help but think about what happened there the night before. 

"North Park is a great place to do everything, running, biking, mountain biking," Burleson said. "For that to happen to someone is horrible."

"When you're on a mountain bike, you're moving fast, you're focused on your ride, and you're just not going to see it until it's too late," Burleson said.

The circumstances behind the incident remain unclear, but Burleson believes more could have been done.

"That needed to be marked right before and after with big signs downed power lines, flares, do not cross something other than, you know, just some just some yellow tape is probably not enough," Burleson said.

KDKA-TV reached out to the county parks for comment. Deputy Parks Director Andy Grobe released the following statement, saying, "Due to recent storms in the area, the county parks have experienced down powerlines and trees. The park department urges all trail users to adhere to closed or rerouted trails as we progress through our cleanup efforts. If you notice a hazardous area, please contact us immediately."

Why did it take so long to cut power? 

After Anderson's death, there are many questions about who should be held accountable.

"The fact that it took them that long to get here is disappointing, there's a lot of people that come to North Park," said walker Brianna Deklever.

Joe Jacobs, part owner at King Electric, told KDKA-TV's Mamie Bah about the voltage Anderson possibly came in contact with.

"If it's one of the high tension lines and it's a 10,000-volt line, they're just extremely dangerous and those are the ones where if they fall onto the ground, they could electrocute somebody even from a pretty far distance," Jacobs said. 

Allegheny County police arrived after the call came in before 8:30 p.m., but they were not able to get to him due to the live wires. They were waiting for Duquesne Light to cut off the power, which didn't happen until 10:30 p.m., according to county police.

"It's not uncommon," explained Jacobs. He continued, "Most of the time, there's not actually like a shut off device that they can remotely shut off. Unfortunately,  our infrastructure is really antiquated."

A man has died after police say he rode his bicycle across live wires in North Park.  KDKA Photojournalist Gerome Williams

KDKA-TV reached out to Duquesne Light to request an interview, but the company didn't respond. It did release a statement Wednesday evening saying it's looking into the timeline of events. 

"We can confirm that on Tuesday morning, DLC received a report of a downed wire in North Park," the statement read. "We continue to investigate the timeline of events preceding and following this incident. DLC was later notified that a cyclist came into contact with live electrical wires in North Park. We immediately responded to the scene, confirmed that it was secure and deenergized the lines shortly after."

The company said storms and the heat wave caused more than 90,000 customers to lose power on Monday and it received hundreds of downed wire reports. 

 "Safety hazards are our first priority when it comes to response and restoration, and we prioritize each of these reports according to risks to public safety, among other factors," Duquesne Light said. 

While county police blocked off the area with caution tape, KDKA-TV asked why officers didn't stay at the scene. A spokesperson said they won't comment any further due to the ongoing investigation.

In the meantime, Burleson and fellow biker Rob Truesdell are taking precautions.

"I will definitely use lights like headlamps, things like that when I'm out in the dark," Truesdell said.

"You try to maximize your visibility as far as even wearing bright-colored material and things like that," Burleson said.

Police and the power company are investigating the incident along with park rangers. If you have any information about what happened call the County Police Tip Line at 1-833-ALL-TIPS. Callers can remain anonymous.

Cyclist found dead after being electrocuted by downed wires 02:45
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