South Sound News

Report on what caused 26 power poles to fall in Tukwila cites decay, weather

Six months after 26 power poles crashed down on East Marginal Way in Tukwila, a report released by Seattle City Light points to a summer storm, "advanced internal decay" in six of the poles, and damage from beetles in three of them due to improper treatment by the vendor as cause for the collapse.

It states that the incident on the afternoon of April 5 began with two poles in the middle near Raisbeck Aviation High School going down first. One was measured at 57% of its original strength at installation and the other was at 33%.

There were high winds and rain in the greater Seattle area at the time the poles failed, with one crashing onto the car of Tom and Linda Cook. Both were injured but survived.

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"The initial collapse of the two poles created an unstable condition for poles to the north and south, causing sequential failures of 24 other poles, including poles with no decay," City Light said of the findings.

"Was this avoidable?" reporter Linzi Sheldon asked City Light CEO Debra Smith on Wednesday.

"Certainly it was avoidable in the sense that—we now know that we need to be far more aggressive in our pole replacement program," she said.

Smith said that the department is redirecting millions away from other projects to replace 6,000 poles across the area. That includes 360 poles made by the vendor responsible for improperly treated, and later beetle-infested, poles. She said the work will likely take 18 to 24 months. Customers' electricity rates, Smith said, will not go up to pay for it.

Read the report at this link and a FAQ about the report at this link.

"I don't have a good answer for you," Smith said. "The classification system was too broad at the low end, and it didn't allow us to effectively prioritize and it didn't hold us to a tight enough time frame."
That means that some of the poles were on a list to be replaced in what was deemed a "practical time frame"—a time frame with no real due dates or deadlines.

"That's a primary focus," Smith said. "To take ‘practical' and turn it into something that is accountable."

The inspection, tracking, and replacement system is changing, Smith said.

Traffic cameras show moments before power pole fell on car in Tukwila

Through their lawyer, KIRO 7 learned Wednesday that the Cooks are still undergoing mental and physical therapy and that Tom Cook still has glass lodged in his hand. Their attorney said they are trying to reach a settlement with the city.

Outside contractor to investigate what caused 26 light poles to crash in Tukwila

The report released Wednesday was put together by an outside team of experts and is only the first part of the final report.  City Light said consultants will finalize the second part of the report later this fall. It will offer the experts' recommendations.

The power poles fell in Tukwila about 4 p.m. on Friday, April 5. Videos show some of the poles leaning and then beginning to fall.

"I thought I heard a boom and a flash, but it was all so quick," said Linda Cook, who was driving with her husband, Tom. He said he saw a flash in his rearview mirror.

"It looked like a power pole. And as I watched, it fell down. But I saw other power poles start to fall behind us. And it looked they were all falling."

A power pole crashed into the car between them. Linda Cook could only see her husband's bleeding hand. The cross piece of the pole hit the car's windshield.

East Marginal Way in Tukwila stayed closed for 22 hours after the crash. Power for 16,000 customers was disrupted, including areas in South Seattle, White Center, Burien and Tukwila.

The video shows some of the poles leaning and then began to fall over along East Marginal Way, with one falling on the Cook's car. As the poles started falling, the cameras lost power.

Video below shows our initial breaking news coverage of the fallen poles:

This video shows traffic cameras and the moments before the power poles came down:

This video also shows the polls falling: