Army blames contractor in electrocution of soldier from Shaler

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Army investigators say a Green Beret from Shaler was electrocuted at his barracks in Iraq because of substandard work by a U.S. military contractor.

The Army called the death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth "negligent homicide," concluding that KBR Inc. did not make sure qualified electricians and plumbers worked on the barracks.

Sgt. Maseth, 24, was electrocuted while taking a shower in Baghdad on Jan. 2, 2008. Nearly a year before, KBR said it had found electrical wiring problems at the barracks.

The Army's report, dated Dec. 16, was obtained yesterday by The Associated Press in Washington. In the document, investigators changed the initial finding that Sgt. Maseth died "accidentally." Instead, they attributed his death to the Houston-based company and two of its supervisors.

Heather L. Browne, a spokeswoman for KBR, said her company's own investigation had produced no evidence that KBR was responsible for Sgt. Maseth's death.

"We cannot comment on the report by an unidentified Army investigator because we have not seen it," she said.

Douglas Maseth, father of the soldier, also declined to comment because his family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against KBR in federal court.

Sgt. Maseth's mother, Cheryl Harris, testified before a congressional committee about electrical problems on military posts. Since then, the Army has made changes such as creating an electrical code for U.S. installations in Iraq. At one point last year, the deaths of at least 18 U.S. service members and contractors were under investigation as possible electrocutions.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in a statement that the Army Criminal Investigation's Command had validated the work done by Sgt. Maseth's mother.

"We must not only ensure that full accountability is served in this case, but that the Pentagon is also doing all that it can to prevent future electrocutions of American personnel in both Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

Sgt. Maseth had been in the Army more than six years at the time of his death. He enlisted in June 2001, soon after graduating from Shaler Area High School.

Post-Gazette staff writer Milan Simonich contributed to this report. First Published January 23, 2009 5:00 AM


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