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Alexandra Berzon

High-rise death mystifes family, offcials

23 June 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- When electrician Mark Wescoat died two months ago at CityCenter, he left a mystery in his wake. Friends and family bemoaned that they didn't understand how he had come to fall two stories during the early morning of April 26. On the work site, rumors flew.

The results of a state investigation into Wescoat's death were released to the Sun this week, but they shed only a little more light on the circumstances surrounding the death.

The state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which conducted the investigation, found no safety violations in connection with the incident and did not issue any citations against Wescoat's employer, Fisk Electric. Investigators also did not find any witnesses to Wescoat's death. Fisk Electric did not respond to calls from the Sun for comment.

"I've lost my son and I have no idea what happened to him," Louise Wescoat, Mark's 83-year-old mother, said by phone Thursday from her home in Vineland, N.J. "My heart is broken."

Wescoat, 47, had been an electrician for 24 years and worked in Las Vegas for a year. His death was the fifth of a worker at CityCenter, a $9.2 billion project rising on the Las Vegas Strip. A month after he died, on May 31, a sixth worker, Dustin Tarter, was crushed by a crane.

The deaths led to the worker walkout June 3 at CityCenter in protest over safety conditions on the site.

As a result of the walkout, the site's general contractor, Perini Building Co., agreed to allow safety experts from the national building trades unions' research organization to access the site to conduct an investigation. Federal safety inspectors also descended on the site to assist Nevada OSHA in a comprehensive inspection of CityCenter.

Nevada OSHA's investigation into Wescoat's death found that at about 6:20 a.m. on April 26, an employee noticed that Wescoat had not shown up to work on the 29th floor of the south tower of the main hotel and casino at CityCenter.

The employee went searching for Wescoat and found him about 15 minutes later lying face down and slumped over a concrete ledge on the 25th floor. OSHA determined that he had fallen from the 27th level at about 6:30 a.m.

Based on the location of Wescoat's personal items and some scuff marks, OSHA inspectors determined that Wescoat likely was trying to jump across a 3-foot gap from a 19-inch concrete beam to a section of the floor at that level.

Employees who worked with Wescoat told investigators that he had seemed in good spirits in the days before he died. They couldn't think of a reason why he would have been in that part of the work site, as there was no electrical work to do there and it wasn't a place where he would go to take breaks.

"It doesn't make sense to any of us," said Steven Wescoat, a brother. "My gut feeling is we're just never really going to know what happened."

But that hasn't stopped the family from trying.

In the week after the death, Steven Wescoat and other family members and friends spoke to people they knew at Metro Police to try to persuade the department to investigate. They said they were told that Metro's policy is to not become involved if the coroner's office has determined a death resulted from an accident. An exception would be made if OSHA were to ask police to step in.

"Just like when the fire department discovers something they believe is a crime, they would have to decide they want us to come out and assist them," police spokesman Bill Cassell said.

Nevada OSHA's policy is to not ask for police assistance.

"Nevada OSHA does not ask for involvement by the police," Nevada OSHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Shurtleff said in an e-mail. "They become involved when they are informed of the incident, whether it's directly or through another agency such as the fire department or the coroner's office ... Nevada OSHA evaluates the incident based on whether there were any violations of the safety standards."

A spokesman for Cal/OSHA, the California equivalent of Nevada OSHA, said safety inspectors in that state ask for assistance from the district attorney's office when something seems "askew."

For example, investigators for a district attorney were brought in after a worker was found face down in a vat of chemicals at an industrial plant in San Jose, said Dean Fryer, spokesman for Cal/OSHA.

Regardless of the outcome, all Cal/OSHA investigations are turned over to the district attorney after they're concluded, Fryer said.

"I'm trying to let it go," Steven Wescoat said, "but it's not easy. "We're not getting closure, and it seems that that's how it's going to be."