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N.C. Officials Continue Investigating Water Tower Death

Aug 16, 2003 | AP

Labor investigators say they are not yet sure why scaffolding collapsed at a water tower in Madison, killing one of three painters who were suspended 80 feet high when the accident occurred.

A painter who fell to the ground, Pedro Hernandez Encarnacion, 34, of Eden died Thursday evening at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

Investigators say Encarnacion suffered fatal internal injuries in the fall, while a second painter, Victor Estrada, 35, remained suspended near the broken scaffolding for more than an hour.

Estrada remained hospitalized at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro, where a spokesman said he was listed in good condition.

A third painter, Christopher Titus, 23, of Shallotte was not injured.

Investigators said it appeared that one of two cables supporting the platform snapped, releasing the left side of its balanced perch into a wild downward swing.

Investigators from the state Department of Labor were at the scene Thursday and Friday.

The 300,000-gallon water tower is just off N.C. 704 near U.S. 220. The men were employed by a subcontractor of the town of Madison to repaint the tower.

Labor Department spokesman Juan Santos said it could be several weeks before investigators know exactly what triggered the accident.

Santos said investigators would try to determine first why the scaffolding fell, then why Encarnacion was not saved by a tether that he should have been connected to.

Emergency workers said they removed a safety vest from Encarnacion, but were not sure if it either malfunctioned or was not being used properly.

Encarnacion, who grew up near Acapulco in the ocean-side Mexican province of Guerrero, moved to Rockingham County five years ago. He was a resident alien who had applied for U.S. citizenship.

"He came to work," said his wife, Sandra Encarnacion, 46. "He sent money home to his mother."

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