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Jolted Worker Fights for Life

The construction worker who received a severe electrical shock outside an Upper West Side building was fighting for his life Saturday, while the elderly man whose jury-rigged lights caused the freak accident remained shaken by the incident.

"Just the thought that someone could die because of this ... " James Cuddahee said Saturday, his voice trailing off.

Cuddahee, 69, was inside his apartment at 150 W. 74th St. on Friday afternoon when construction worker Slawomir Dytrych, 35, was badly injured while trying to pull down light fixtures that Cuddahee had erected under the building's scaffolding.

A co-worker had to strike Dytrych with a plastic garbage pail to loosen Dytrych's grip on the electrified pole.

Dytrych, a Polish immigrant whose wife and two children live in his homeland, was in critical condition at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center. A police source said doctors have given him only a small chance of surviving.

The victim, who lives in Kensington with a roommate, was doing brickwork for Epic Restoration. It was his first day of working at the West 74th Street building.

Police on Friday said the scaffolding was erected Thursday and that Cuddahee put up the lights soon after because the lighting underneath the scaffolding was dim.

But Cuddahee said Saturday that the scaffolding was erected last July and that he put up the lighting soon after. He and other residents also said they had implored Colgate Scaffolding Corp. -- which erected the one-story-high fixture, technically known as a sidewalk shed -- to add more lighting.

Colgate, however, Saturday said the lighting that workers had installed was sufficient.

On Friday, Dytrych and other workers showed up at the site and discovered that the faulty wiring had electrified the scaffolding's metal support poles.

John Natasi, who lives next to the building, recalled that workers warned him to keep his children away from the scaffolding.

"There's electricity in it," he remembered them saying. "We got shocked."

Natasi said one worker even jokingly pretended he was being electrocuted. It was only an hour later, at about 4:20 p.m., that Dytrych was shocked.

Saturday, well-wishers tried to comfort Cuddahee, telling him he wasn't at fault.

Cuddahee, his hands literally shaking, lamented the factors leading to the accident -- the Friday afternoon rains, the faulty wiring, the block's children sometimes tugging on the wires.

"It was like a perfect recipe," he said. "It's just a bitter fate and it's wrong."

After the accident, Cuddahee was questioned by detectives and released. A law enforcement source, however, said the investigation is not complete and that criminal charges could be filed.

The Buildings Department issued a violation to the building's managing agent and said the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will likely launch an investigation.

Copyright (c) 2004, Newsday, Inc.

This article originally appeared at:
http://www.newsday.com/news/local/newyork/nyc-elec0529,0,3632103.story?coll=ny-nynews-headlines


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