Hidden hazards up high in stadiums

By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - Hazards overhead have some East Texas school officials scrambling. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says certain outdoor stadium light poles can crash down on football fields, baseball diamonds, and stadium bleachers, posing a serious risk of death and injury. When we found out, we made a few phone calls and discovered, many school districts had no idea their stadiums were at risk.

What's a Friday night, without the Friday night lights? So long as what lights up the field stays up.

CPSC confirmed nine incidents where Whitco Company, LP light poles came tumbling down on stadium seats through gym roofs. It says nearly 50 Whitco Company, LP poles that did not fall, developed fractures or cracks at the base - poles that stand nearly 140 feet tall and weigh up to four tons. CPSC traces Whitco Company LP poles to addresses in Arp, Athens, Big Sandy, Hallsville, Marshall, Overton, and Sulphur Springs.

Big Sandy Superintendent Scott Beene says he has somewhere between five and eight of the poles and he says, if we hadn't called, he probably would not have know. He says maintenance staff did a ground level check.

"From what I read in the consumer report, they're in that area," said Beene.

No cracks were found. Beene says he also contacted Whitco, and so did we, but the Whitco Poles we found is not the same Whitco Company LP who made Big Sandy's poles. In a statement, Executive VP of Whitco Poles wrote, "'Whitco Company LP' went out of business and filed for bankruptcy on March 15, 2006...on April 25, 2006, a group of investors purchased certain named assets of Whitco Company LP...our customers can feel confident in knowing that we design our poles to the highest recognized engineering standard...we have never had a pole failure."

Beene says, fortunately for Big Sandy, all of the poles are at the baseball-softball complex, not the football stadium.

"There are students that are on these fields...especially in the Spring when baseball/softball starts up," said Beene. "Safety of those kids is our number one goal."

"I couldn't live with myself if anything happened to any of our kids or any of our citizens here," said Athens ISD Operations Manager Barry Choate.

He says he is already taking inspection bids for 10 poles - four at Bruce Field, where a game is scheduled in less than two weeks.

"It's called a single flange standard anchor base," said Choate.

He says an inspector looked at the poles this past winter and said they're poles were clear, that was until Monday when we called.

"I want to make sure this is the nicest, safest, cleanest facility we can have," said Choate.

Arp just hosted a game last week. Superintendent Toney Lowery says he is confident his poles are safe. After we called, he says Arp got a letter from the CPSC and contacted the construction company.

"The product that they are warning about, we don't have because ours are concrete-based, and not bolt based," said Lowery.

But, he plans to have his poles inspected, just to be sure.

"Whether it's construction on the bleachers, or lights falling, or tripping over each other at the concession stand, it's always a concern," said Lowery.

And, here in East Texas, the last thing we want on a Friday night is "lights out."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says the poles in question were installed from about 2000 and 2006. Thankfully, no injuries have been reported, but they recommend inspecting the poles immediately. CPSC is conducting an investigation on these poles and other poles, too, may pose a similar threat.

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