Deadly dangers of celluar towers

Monday, January 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The News on Six was the first to tell you about the growing number of men falling from cellular towers to their deaths. Four Oklahoma men have died in the last four months.

Monday, federal investigators began looking into an incident involving three men who fell 100 feet to their deaths in Arkansas.

News on Six reporter Tami Marler has been looking into the story. Cellular towers are going up by the tens of thousands. Unfortunately, training and safety standards have not kept up with the boom. A Wyoming black bear met its match when he came up against Gary Butler. An avid outdoorsman who once excelled in sports, martial arts and hunting. "Hunt in the mountains; go for 5, 10 mile hikes, carrying elk out and bear out and whatever. All the fun stuff I used to be able to do, no longer possible." Not possible because on July 1st, Gary Butler met his match on a cell phone tower.

While setting up a cellular tower, he fell 45 feet. "They're saying I fell backwards and pushed off to avoid the bottom, the concrete on the bottom of the tower, and to land on my hands and feet." Butler says he doesn't remember the incident, but his mountain climbing instinct must have saved his life, it certainly wasn't anything he was trained to do before climbing hundreds of feet into the air. "It's about a five minute walkthrough of telling me what to do and what not to do. Just try to stay hooked up as much as possible, and asked if I was scared to climb, and I said no I'm not scared to climb. There was never a whole full day of safety or training or anything like that."

Butler considers himself lucky, even though he broke or injured just about every bone from his toes to his ribs. He's spent the last six months in rehab. "Pure hell. Just trying to do anything. I can't really get up or go to the bathroom or do anything. It's just hard having to depend on everybody for everything." Depending on people like Rick Risenhoover, who says Butler's positive attitude has gone a long way in getting much of his bodily function back. His mother Lavonne Lewis, helps with just about everything. "We know that there's hope and with a lot of prayer and confidence, we know that it's going to happen."

But Gary says there's been little help from his employer, a startup company with a handful of employees. He says workers' compensation only pays about $200 a week, plus medical bills for some 15 surgeries, and many more to come. Still, Gary Butler is thankful. “I'll be lucky to walk again; I'll be happy to walk, you know."

Cellular corporations often hire "mom and pop" contractors - like the company Butler worked for - to do their tower work. OSHA says smaller companies often don't have the experience to train or monitor workers properly. Many in the industry are pressing OSHA for stricter guidelines - specific to the cell tower industry.