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Wiring warning came months before soldier electrocuted

  • Story Highlights
  • Sergeant complained about bad wiring months before another soldier died
  • Soldier testified Wednesday that he sent a work order to fix the problem in 2007
  • Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth was electrocuted in a shower in the same quarters in 2008
  • Executive from electrical contractor KBR blamed Army for wiring issue
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An Army sergeant complained about faulty wiring in Iraq months before another soldier was fatally electrocuted in a shower in the same quarters, according to documents released Wednesday by a congressional committee.

Ryan Maseth, a 24-year-old Green Beret, died in his shower January 2.

Sgt. Justin Hummer filled out a work order in July 2007 that warned, "Pipes have voltage, get shocked in the shower."

Hummer told investigators from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that at least once, he had to use a wooden stick to turn off the shower "because the electrical current was so strong."

Army records show that electricians from contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root found "several safety issues concerning the improper grounding of electrical devices" in February 2007.

In January 2008, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth was electrocuted in a shower in the same quarters where Hummer lived the previous summer. A follow-up investigation "found nearly all of the same problems and deficiencies that had been reported one year previously," a committee report states.

Maseth and Hummer had been based at a Saddam Hussein-era palace complex near the Baghdad airport. Hummer's concerns were not shared with the Defense Department's inspector-general's office.

That office concluded that there was "no credible evidence" that KBR and the Pentagon agency that oversees defense contractors were aware of electrical problems at the facility, committee Chairman Henry Waxman said during a Wednesday hearing.

But the Pentagon's inspector-general, Gordon Heddell, said that his investigators "have absolved no one" and that he was not aware of the work orders Hummer filed.

"They're certainly very dramatic, and they certainly are documents that we will have to spend a lot of time looking at," he said.

Waxman, D-California, has led a House investigation into a series of electrical accidents in Iraq that he said may have been responsible for the deaths of 19 U.S. troops and contractors. But in the first appearance by a KBR executive before the panel, the company's Baghdad engineering and construction manager blamed the Army for the deaths.

"The reality is that KBR's actions were not the cause of any of these terrible accidents," Tom Bruni said.

KBR is a former subsidiary of the oilfield-services giant Halliburton, once led by Vice President Dick Cheney, and it holds the largest U.S. service contract in Iraq.

Bruni's argument drew sharp questions from Rep. Tom Davis, the committee's ranking Republican, who pressed him on who was responsible for the deaths.

"I think that the Army has some responsibility in this," Bruni said.

"Well, if they have some, who would have the rest?" the Virginia representative asked. "Just conceivably, who else could have it, if the Army just has some responsibility? Would KBR have some then?"

"The responsibility lies with the Army," Bruni replied.

He said the Army never authorized the electrical repairs identified in early 2007 or in a follow-up report that November. But Waxman said the Army had been warning of electrical hazards in Iraq since 2004, including one fatality similar to Maseth's.

A report that year warned U.S. commanders that contractors must properly ground electrical systems. "But despite these warnings, few actions were taken by Pentagon leadership or KBR officials," Waxman said.

Jeffrey Parsons, executive director of the Army Contracting Command, said the service does not have the expertise to adequately oversee contractors' electrical work.

The service is working with the Corps of Engineers "to obtain this expertise," Parsons said.

Maseth's parents have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in a Pennsylvania court against KBR.

Despite the attention focused on the issue by Waxman's committee, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, said that poor wiring remains "a genuine danger to our men and women serving in Iraq."

"My office has heard from several active-duty soldiers a report that as recently as three weeks ago, soldiers in Iraq continued to receive electrical shocks on a regular basis as they carry out their daily activities, including taking showers," Casey told the committee.

Do you have a tip or story idea? Send it to the CNN: Special Investigations Unit.

CNN's Abbie Boudreau, Scott Bronstein and Justine Redman contributed to this report.

All About IraqHalliburton CompanyThe PentagonDick Cheney

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