Shock, fall killed Habitat volunteer

Habitat for Humanity is building these houses on Fairview Avenue, where a volunteer for the organization died after being shocked and falling from a roof on Wednesday. (Suzette Wenger / Staff)

The Habitat for Humanity volunteer killed on Wednesday died of both electric shock and his subsequent fall from the roof, Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni said Thursday.

Ron Mellinger, 73, of Manheim, was helping to build a home for Habitat for Humanity at the time, city police said.

"He died of both electrocution and multiple traumatic injuries," Diamantoni said after conducting an autopsy, adding that the contributing factors were equally responsible for his death.

Mellinger was trying to install a piece of aluminum flashing on the roof of 643-645 Fairview Ave. when the flashing came into contact with a high-voltage power line, according to city police Detective Chris DePatto.

Mellinger was shocked and fell from the two-story roof. He was taken to Lancaster General Hospital, where he later died, DePatto said.

The incident appears to have been an accident, DePatto said, and therefore requires no further involvement by city police. It happened at about 11:45 a.m. at Habitat's Fairview Build development at Fairview Avenue and Seymour Street.

According to the Habitat for Humanity website, workers are constructing the second phase of a 19-townhouse development.

"He was doing what he loved to do," Mellinger's wife, Judy, said Thursday. "He had a passion for helping people and building low-income housing for them."

Asked if she has safety concerns related to the Habitat site on Fairview Avenue, Mellinger said, "That is not a big concern. It is a wonderful organization."

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is not investigating the death because Mellinger was a volunteer at Habitat, not an employee, U.S. Labor Department spokeswoman Joanna Hawkins said. Volunteers do not fall under OSHA's jurisdiction.

OSHA has many specific requirements of companies who have employees working near power lines. Generally, workers and any conductive objects are required to be at least 10 feet from the lines.

"Our own investigation found the 7,200 volt power line was 58 inches from the house," PPL spokesman John Levitski said.

PPL is not responsible for Mellinger's death in any way, Levitski said. The power line was there prior to the development and construction of the homes, and Habitat never requested that PPL move the line.

PPL encourages anyone working on a building who has questions concerning power lines to contact the company before construction begins, Levitski said. PPL can de-energize secondary power lines leading to homes and businesses in most cases or move primary lines.

"That did not happen in this particular case," he said. "There was no notification until it was too late."

A call to Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity on Thursday was not immediately returned.

LAHH executive director Stacie Reidenbaugh said in an e-mail to a reporter that the organization did not wish to comment on the incident.

Gary Horning, the city's code inspector, said the city's investigation into the incident centered on what needed to happen before workers could resume work at the site.

As long as workers do not go on the roof and stay at least 10 feet from the power lines, they may resume work in the homes, he said.

Habitat told him that no one was scheduled to work at the site Thursday or today, Horning said.

Before working on the roof again, Habitat will need a written notice of approval from PPL, he said.

Horning also said that under Habitat's land development plan for the site, the power line that shocked Mellinger "was slated to be moved out from where it is now."

Mellinger said her husband worked for High Steel Structures for 45 years before retiring in 2001.

Since then, he had volunteered for Brethren Disaster Ministries and put in numerous work weeks for Habitat for Humanity in West Virginia, Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana and elsewhere.

According to newspaper records, Mellinger was honored by Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity in 2008 as a construction volunteer of the year.