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November 26, 2014

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Mystery surrounds CityCenter fatality

Investigation under way in electrician’s fall — fifth death at project

Sun Topics

An electrician fell to his death at MGM Mirage’s CityCenter work site Saturday.

Mark Wescoat, 47, of New Jersey became the fifth worker to die at the $8 billion project. Five other workers have died in construction accidents in other Strip building projects over the past 17 months. That figure exceeds the number of fatalities during the entire 1990s Strip building boom and has baffled national safety experts.

Details about Wescoat’s death are murky. His family, based in New Jersey and Chicago, has spent the days since he died searching for information.

What’s known is this: Wescoat worked at CityCenter for subcontractor Fisk Electric Co., headquartered in Houston. He had recently begun to take on overtime work.

He checked in at Pelli Tower at 6 a.m. Saturday. However, he never made it to his crew’s morning safety meeting. Instead, he was found at about 6:30 a.m. slumped over a 2-foot wall on the 25th floor. He was taken to University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Sources involved in investigating the death said Wescoat appears to have fallen about 20 to 25 feet from an area of the 27th floor protected by a guardrail.

Many details are unclear, including what Wescoat was doing in that work area at the beginning of his shift, and why he fell.

“It’s inconclusive what caused the fall,” said David Jones, the business manager and financial secretary of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 357.

The local is conducting an investigation, as is the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The family’s efforts to understand what happened appear to have received little help from the investigative agencies and the companies involved. OSHA would not comment the investigation to the Sun. A spokesman for Fisk Electric also declined to comment. Clark County Fire Department spokesman Scott Allison confirmed that Wescoat had fallen to his death but did not have additional information.

MGM Mirage offered only scant information.

“An investigation is under way to determine what happened as best they can, and whether this was work related or not,” MGM Mirage spokesman Gordon Absher said.

OSHA cited Fisk Electric for two safety violations two years ago after an accident at the Palms. However, OSHA deleted the citations during an informal conference with Fisk. The Sun reported in March that the agency commonly has withdrawn citations during informal conferences with employers following accident investigations on Strip construction sites.

Last year, four employees died in three accidents at CityCenter. In each case, OSHA investigators found numerous safety violations, including unprotected holes and a lack of emphasis on worker training.

Workers have described to the Sun a work site made difficult by crowded crews working round the clock to construct six towers at once in time for the ambitious opening date of November 2009. MGM Mirage maintains the project’s general contractor, Perini Building Co., has kept the work site as safe as possible given the volume of construction. CityCenter is the most expensive private commercial development in U.S. history.

At the request of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, safety experts from the affiliated Center for Construction Research and Training met with local union and Perini representatives last week to talk about root causes of safety problems at CityCenter.

Wescoat’s family said he’d come to Las Vegas about a year ago. He was based in Vineland, N.J., where he grew up, but he traveled constantly for work.

Wescoat became an electrician in 1984 after going to school for computer digital electronics, his brother, Steven Wescoat, said Monday. That background helped him. Mark and Steve Wescoat decided together to become electricians, but Mark was accepted into his apprenticeship program right away. Four years passed before Steve was granted a coveted and difficult-to-obtain spot.

While Steve was content to stay and find work in South Jersey, Mark Wescoat loved to discover new cities.

“He was kind of a free spirit,” Wescoat said.

Mark’s wife, Susan Wescoat, has serious health problems and stayed with family in Chicago while Wescoat worked throughout the country.

Susan Wescoat said the couple were looking forward to her visit to Las Vegas on Thursday. She said she was already packed. The couple had snagged a free weekend at the Stratosphere and $600 in slot play, she said.

“ ‘He said, ‘I can’t believe you’re coming. This is going to be so great,’ ” Susan Wescoat said of a conversation with her husband the night before he died. “Everything was going right.”

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