Standing on her front porch, Lansing resident June Weathers is just feet from the scene of what seemed to be a straightforward accident last summer. A semi-truck hit an overhead utility wire on July 18, pulling it down and punching out power to the neighborhood.
"The first thing I thought was, did an airplane go down? Because it was that loud," she told NBC5 Responds. “He had hit the lines, and that's what caused the noise and the surge.”
June snapped some pictures—of the truck, the driver and the responding utility crews. She says she never dreamed that six months later she’d be almost bankrupted by that accident, in which she played no role.
"Big businesses have a way of passing the buck. And the consumer—the little person…they get stuck," Weathers said.
Her story starts with the power surge that followed the accident—blowing out her sump pump and battery back-up. Because of recent hip surgery, June says she could not navigate the stairs to her basement to check on the sump pump. When she asked a relative to take a look a few days after the outage:
"He said, you know you have about three feet of water in your basement. I said, come on, stop joking."
He wasn’t kidding. Years of her belongings, soaked in feet of water. Her pictures show the staggering loss of water-logged items and knotty pine paneling she had to remove when mold set in. June says her bills neared $60,000 in loss and remediation costs. She started asking who would be responsible.
"Every company I contacted—from the trucking company to my insurance company to the electric company…everybody said no," she said.
And when she says “everybody”—she means it. NBC5 Responds traced the trail.
First, the Missouri-based truck driver, who told police the power lines were lower than they should have been and that’s why he hit them.
Isaac Trucking’s insurance, Northland, then blamed Com Ed for the low-lying lines and denied June’s claim.
ComEd, which owns the poles, said “not our lines” after its investigation, and requested Lansing police take its name off the police report and put Comcast’s name on—stating the cable lines were the lowest ones on the pole and the ones that were damaged.
Comcast, parent company of NBC, said its inspection of the accident site did not find “conclusive evidence” that its line was lower than required, and also denied responsibility.
June Weathers’ last hope, her homeowner’s insurance, also said, “No.” State Farm says it doesn’t cover basement flooding, regardless of whether a power surge caused it or not.
"We're gonna keep passing the buck. ‘It's not our fault. Now you're up next. Anybody but us,’" Weathers said. "And I thought—this is not right. I'm the victim here. They're all saying that no one did anything.
But something did cause the accident, which led to the damage in June’s home.
Through a Freedom of Information request, NBC5 Responds learned the Isaac Trucking driver had the proper permit to drive an over-height load, and that the Illinois Department of Transportation told him to drive on Burnham Avenue.
So was a utility wire too low here?
Looking at the most recent Google image available, from 2013, the Illinois Commerce Commission told NBC5 Responds part of the thicker cable strand on these poles, which we learned belongs to Comcast, appears "defective" and "sagging."
Those words sound familiar to Lansing business owner Bob Eenigenburg. He was driving to work two months before the July accident when he says a low-lying line on the same poles startled him.
"I saw a heavy cable and I ducked," Eenigenburg told NBC5 Responds.
Strands that he says were sagging so much the 7-foot-two-inch high antenna on his van hit one.
That was in May. When he called authorities, according to incident reports obtained by NBC5 Responds, they called Comcast, which came and secured the lines.
Later that day when he passed the scene, Bob Eenigenburg says that repair job worried him.
"It just seemed like it was still too low,” he said. “Like it was an accident waiting to happen."
Two months later, an accident did happen, when the semi hit the line.
Comcast declined to say how high it maintains its line on the Burnham Avenue pole.
A Comcast spokesman offered this statement:
“Our hearts go out to Ms. Weathers, and we want reassure her that we’re taking her issue very seriously. When we were first made aware of it, we quickly sent out a claims processing team to investigate the site. The team did a thorough inspection and was unable to find evidence that our line was below the height requirement. We’ve reviewed the additional information that has come to our attention since our initial investigation and still haven’t found conclusive evidence that our line was below the height requirement at the time of the incident on July 18.”
As for the May incident, a Comcast spokesperson said in a statement:
“Note that the Lansing Fire Department requested that we come out to 18622 Burnham Av. to fix a downed line crossing Burnham Ave. at Otto and Burnham on May 26, 2016, less than two months before the incident. It was not our line, but because the road was closed, we temporarily fixed it. The fire department declared the street safe for passage when the repair was complete and reopened the road, so we know our line as well as the line we temporarily repaired was at a height under which traffic could pass shortly before the July18 incident.”
The spokesman would not say whose utility line Comcast fixed in that case.
After our questions about the power surge damage, State Farm re-opened June's claim and changed its decision. Her insurer will now cover her appliance loss, about $2600.
A small victory compared to her overall loss, but one June Weathers says she was ecstatic to hear.