Regulators: PG&E 'Impaired and Delayed' CPUC Probe of San Jose Accident

September 06, 2019

NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit
By Jaxon Van Derbeken

NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit has learned that state regulators now accuse PG&E of hindering their investigation into a dig-in accident nearly five years ago that left a San Jose worker seriously burned.

Back in November 2014, one of Robert Pena’s first jobs as a newly hired San Jose city maintenance worker was to clear a clogged sewer line. He was in a trench dug in the street on Scottsdale Drive when his crew saw that something was blocking the line.

“We thought it was just a line that had a lot of roots in it,” said Pena, 34, of Gilroy. To clear the line, Pena used a battery-operated power saw.

“I started cutting and the next thing I know I see a big flash, an orange flash — it exploded right in my face — luckily I didn’t get electrocuted.”

Pena was thrown back five feet, but managed to scramble out of the trench in the street in time to avoid the second explosion. The roots, it turned out, concealed a 21,000 volt PG&E power line, one that was improperly installed across the sewer pipe.

A crew with PG&E’s 811 safety team had been out to find and mark the underground lines for Pena’s crew, but they did not mark the high voltage wire that ran through the sewer pipe.

After an investigation, the state’s public utilities commission in 2015 fined PG&E $450,000 for the errors.

PG&E paid that fine and the case was long resolved when, earlier this year, a PG&E insider blew the whistle on the 811 program.

Katherin Mack said 811 workers were cutting corners under pressure, without calling in electrical workers to assist them in finding buried power lines. She cited the San Jose incident as proof of the dangers involved when workers do not call in qualified experts.

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