Cables ‘ripped apart’ in tradie death trap
Wiring allegedly used to steal electricity at a Sydney home where a young carpenter was electrocuted was "extremely dangerous" and like nothing a police detective had ever seen before, an inquest has heard.
Luke Bray, 24, was found slumped over a beam and holding a frayed cable in his right hand with the copper wiring exposed in the roof of a Carlton address in February 2017.
Despite resuscitation attempts, he died at the scene.
Police allege Rabih Hamadi, the brother of a previous female tenant Mariam Hamade, had rigged up an electrical bypass system in the property before removing it when she was asked to vacate in late 2016.
Mr Bray had been replacing wooden beams after the new owner reported they had broken and the roof sagged.
'I'VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS'
Detective Sergeant Tony Karras, who has been a licensed electrician for almost 40 years, on Thursday told the inquest into Mr Bray's death he had seen about 50 illegal electrical bypass systems in his time, mainly used for hydroponics.
"On numerous occasions I've seen them and done in various ways but I have never, ever seen anything like this," he testified before Deputy State Coroner Elaine Truscott at the NSW Coroner's Court.
"The difference between this and all the others (is) this one is extremely dangerous and it has proven to be fatal in the fact that although they do bypass in this way, normally they are insulated with electrical tape to cover up the exposed wires."
Asked by counsel assisting the coroner Sergeant Steve Kelly if he formed the opinion the conductor in Mr Bray's hand had been used in an illegal electrical bypass, Sgt Karras replied: "Yes."
He said the cable's white PVC insulation appeared to have been "ripped apart" by a pair of pliers or secateurs.
"They ripped the plastic apart and what I could see is the 2.5mm yellow and green earth wire, which was stripped at some point, and then carefully wrapped around the conductor of the (main) 16mm wire," Sgt Karras said.
He said he had never seen an earthing wire used as the active wire.
"That's the first occasion I've seen it used like that," Sgt Karras said.
He said the earthing system is of "such importance" it is held to the switchboard with two screws instead of one.
"If the active or neutral (wires) do decide for some reason to break apart, well, you lose electricity," Sgt Karras said.
"But if the earth wire breaks and you get a fault in any metal appliance, it could be fatal, that's the importance of it."
He said appliances, such as a toaster, would become "live" as the wire would not go to earth and blow a fuse instead.
'TYPICAL ELECTRICAL INJURIES'
In her autopsy findings, forensic pathologist Dr Elsie Burger determined Mr Bray's cause of death was electrocution.
Sgt Kelly said Ausgrid installation inspector Mark Krummer, in his evidence on Wednesday, estimated between 66 and 171 milliamps (mAs) of electricity passed through Mr Bray's body causing ventricular fibrillation, based on Australian standards measuring electric shock.
Dr Burger agreed, telling the court on Thursday: "It certainly does fit in well with that range."
"I don't remember the exact values where different things start to happen with the body but I do seem to remember you can feel a tingling in your fingers if it's 1mA," she said, noting a person would "start to get much more significant effects after that".
Dr Burger said the blisters on the front of Mr Bray's right hand were "very, very typical for electrical injuries", considering them the "entrance injury".
She said they have a white appearance with blackening in the centre and often a slight red rim.
Mr Bray also had blisters on his left hand.
He had a lesion on his left leg that was "quite angular" and "looked a little bit like a question mark", and an abrasion on his right leg "with an almost triangular shape", both of which could potentially be electrical wounds, Dr Burger said.
"It is possible that the current primarily went through the one leg, his right leg, and there was an extra slightly lesser current going through the left leg," she said.
"When he collapsed or something, then he made contact with the left leg, that explains why there's a lesser injury."
REASON VICTIM 'GRIPPED' CABLE
Sgt Kelly asked the forensic pathologist to explain what would cause a person to "grab hold of the electrical source" rather than be repelled.
Dr Burger said she understood direct currents tend to push people away from the source of the electricity unlike alternating currents.
"At the kind of range that we're dealing with in household electricity, and also depending on the amount of current that runs through that wire, it causes tetanic gripping or contraction of muscles," she said.
"Tetanic just means you can't let go. Whatever muscle is on that source of energy will go into spasm, basically."
She said a person gripping the wire with the inside of their hand "would not be able to let go, even if they wanted to".
"Even if you were to touch it with a flat hand, you would most probably start gripping it involuntarily," Dr Burger said.
The purpose of the inquest is to determine the manner and cause of Mr Bray's death and "if possible, who was responsible for creating the illegal bypass in the ceiling" of the Carlton property, counsel assisting the coroner Sergeant Steve Kelly said in his opening address on Monday.
He said this included who installed the electrical bypass system and who removed it.
The inquest will resume on Friday.
Originally published as Cables 'ripped apart' in tradie death trap