Freak accident kills flagpole worker in St. Paul

  • Article by: HER, OACUTE;N M and AACUTE;RQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 25, 2007 - 8:59 AM

It was an ordinary job for a longtime repairman, who died after a metal ball struck his head as he worked on a restaurant flagpole.

A flagpole repairman from Oak Grove was killed Wednesday in St. Paul when a heavy metal ball fell off the pole he was working on and hit him in the head.

"It shouldn't have fallen off, and of all the areas to hit, it shouldn't have hit him," said Joan White, the victim's wife. Her 63-year-old husband, Gene White, who owned Twin Cities Flag Source in Anoka, was hit outside a Perkins restaurant about 1:30 p.m. He was pronounced dead later at Regions Hospital.

The accident was "about as bizarre an incident as I can remember," said police spokesman Tom Walsh. It was unclear whether White was wearing a hard hat when the ball fell, he said.

Joan White said that the work was to have been "nothing out of the ordinary," particularly for her husband, she said, who started the company 23 years ago.

He loved the work and the many companies -- banks, restaurants and car dealerships among them -- he visited, she said.

Today, he was to have begun fully raising flags that had been flying at half-staff after the death of former President Gerald Ford, Joan White said.

The accident occurred in the parking lot of the Perkins on University Avenue just east of Snelling Avenue. The cable on the flagpole hadn't been working properly and the winch inside the pole needed to be repaired, Joan White said.

The metal ball that hit her husband weighed more than 10 pounds and is bigger than a bowling ball. It screwed into the top of the 70-foot flagpole.

James Honerman, a spokesman for Minnesota OSHA, said Wednesday afternoon that his agency is investigating.

He said that objects falling on workers have resulted in 15 deaths in Minnesota in the past five years. The agency also has investigated nine injuries resulting from falling objects at work in that time, he said.

"It's one of the most common ways that people get killed or injured on the job," he said.

Last May, a woman was killed when a piece of a telephone pole fell on her as she walked through a construction site on White Bear Avenue in St. Paul. The woman crossed barriers that workers had erected to keep people out of the area.

On Wednesday night, Joan White recalled the pleasure and the pride that her husband took in his work, which had brought him all over the Twin Cities area.

"He loved talking to people," she said. "And if he had a job to do, he wouldn't put it off."

Gene White had six children from a previous marriage, his wife said, and is also survived by 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Asked what people should know about him, she added: "He loved working with everybody."

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