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Wake Faulted in Mechanic s Death; Ignoring Safety Rules

RALEIGH, N.C. -- State safety officials singled out Wake County (N.C.) on Monday for four violations of regulations that contributed to the death of a motor pool mechanic in February.

David Lee Champion, 33, was working on a county ambulance Feb. 26 when the pneumatic jack that held the vehicle aloft slipped from the chassis and dropped the 14,000-pound ambulance on Champion. There were no jack stands or wheel chocks in place to help secure the ambulance, according to the citation.

The citation issued by the N.C. Department of Labor's Division of Occupational Safety and Health says the county must pay the state $22,400 in fines for four violations related to Champion's death, each of them categorized as "serious."

Wake officials met last week with state safety officials to review the findings of an investigation into the accidental death of Champion, a fleet master mechanic.

Each of the four violations carries a fine of $5,600, and all center on proper use of the Gray pneumatic jack. State safety investigators said county workers ignored warnings printed on the jack and contained in the jack's manual.

The violations were:

Failure to use wheel chocks to keep the ambulance from moving forward.

Failure to properly train employees how to use the pneumatic jack.

Failure to use jack stands while working under the ambulance.

Failure to inspect the pneumatic jack after it was purchased before using it for repairs.

Upon official receipt of the findings, Wake is required to provide evidence of corrections within three days.

"We take these findings seriously, and they will be incorporated into the steps we have already taken to improve our fleet safety program," David Goodwin, Wake's General Services director, said in the written statement.

Goodwin said the county has begun additional safety training for its workers and provided fleet mechanics with new safety equipment to help prevent a similar accident. The county also has hired a consultant to review its fleet safety program.

Champion had worked for Wake County for four years and was an experienced mechanic.

Until the fatal accident, the Wake County General Services Fleet Management office had not had a serious safety violation for 13 years. Since 1995, the Capital Boulevard location has had only minor violations related to recordkeeping and hand-washing stations.

"Wake County has lost a family member, friend and dedicated and talented master mechanic," Goodwin said in the statement. "The employees of [the county fleet garage] have endured the worst of situations with dignity, and move forward based on respect for the Champion family, each other and a renewed dedication to the safety of their customers and fellow staff members."

The county has until Thursday to settle the fines.

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