January 29, 2015

Preliminary report: 55 tornadoes in Iowa in 2014

Tornado damage in Dallas County 5-11-14

Tornado damage in Dallas County 5-11-14

More tornadoes touched down in Iowa in 2014 than the previous two years combined. Aubry Wilkens is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Johnston which released a report on Iowa’s tornado activity this week.

“The average (annual tornado count) for the state is right around 46 and in 2014, the preliminary number is 55. Comparing that to recent years, we only had 16 in 2012 and 28 in 2013,” Wilkens said.

More than half of the tornadoes in Iowa in 2014 were short-lived and relatively weak EF0s. There were three EF2 tornadoes.

The busiest day for tornado activity last year came on June 16, when 12 twisters skipped across northern Iowa. That fell well short of the record for a single day. “The most tornadoes we’ve seen in one day in the state was 28 on April 11, 2001,” Wilkens said.

Tornadoes were blamed for two deaths in Iowa last year. Both occurred on April 27 in Keokuk County.

More traffic fatalities in Iowa in 2014 compared to historic low previous year

Police-lights-300x176The Iowa Department of Transportation is reporting 321 people were killed in traffic crashes in Iowa in 2014. That’s four more than last year.

Tracey Bramble, with the Iowa DOT, says a few smart decisions go a long way toward safe driving. “People need to slow down, drive sober, focus on the road, don’t use your phone and that type of thing, stay alert, don’t drive while you’re drowsy, and the biggest things is buckle up,” Bramble said.

The 317 traffic deaths in 2013 marked the lowest annual total in the state since 1944. In 2012, there were 365 traffic fatalities in Iowa.

Bramble is hoping Iowa will go through 2015 without a single fatality from traffic crashes. “People think that may not be realistic, but if you think about your family, that goal is always going to be the goal that you have for your loved ones,” Bramble said. “So, why shouldn’t it be the goal statewide?”

A study released in November found nearly 93% of motorists in Iowa buckle-up when they get in a vehicle. Bramble notes the roughly 7% of non-seatbelt users account for nearly half (46%) of all fatalities on Iowa roadways.

One dead in accident in Guthrie County

One person was killed in a high speed, rollover crash in west-central Iowa Tuesday night. The Iowa State Patrol identified the victim as 64-year old Andrew Gail Soroka of Dexter. Officials say he was driving a 2001 Jeep Cherokee eastbound on White Pole Road in Guthrie County at around 10:30 p.m., when the SUV went straight off the road at a curve.

The vehicle went down the south ditch and hit a “curve” sign before continuing east in the ditch and hitting a log. The SUV rolled down a hill before coming to rest on its wheels. Soroka, who was wearing his seat belt, died at the scene.

(Reporting by Ric Hanson, KJAN, Atlantic)

 

Alternate heat sources can be a fire hazzard if not maintained

Temperatures have dropped to below freezing and that has many people using all kinds of heating sources to try and stay warm. A spokesman for the State Fire Marshal, Ron Humphrey, says before firing up the wood stove or plugging in a space heater, be sure to reduce any clutter around the devices. He says don’t have boxes stacked around them or they may not get enough oxygen to work right.

Humphrey says things can tend to get cluttered around the holidays and it’s important to keep any flamables away from heat sources. “Be aware of your surroundings and what you’re using and if you’re using supplemental heat of any kind, that you’re paying attention to it,” Humphrey says. Humphrey says supplemental heating accounts for almost 12 percent of residential fires.

He reminds everyone again to not get distracted in the kitchen during the holiday, as that is another problem that leads to fires. “You get distracted by kids, or you happen to lay down and take a nap and forget something’s on or you leave the house forgetting that you left something on…and again it comes back to just making sure you are conscious of what you are doing and staying focused,” according to Humphrey. He says 30 percent of fires are caused by unattended cooking, which is the number one cause of accidental fires.

 

Suits filed over One Call digging violations in 6 counties

One-calldig

Anyone planning to dig is required by law to call Iowa One Call to locate underground utilities.

Iowa’s Attorney General announced seven lawsuits in six counties in cases where construction started without a call to check for underground utility lines. AG spokesman Geoff Greenwood says the complaints involve natural gas lines.

“In all of these cases, they either hit a natural gas line or they got very close to hitting one,” Greenwood says. The suits involve companies or individuals in Linn, Palo Alto, Jasper, Woodbury, Franklin, and Pottawattamie counties. Anyone who digs is supposed to dial up the Iowa One Call Center, at 1-800-292-8989, or 811, to have them come and mark underground lines.

“In these cases, nobody was injured…no explosions, fires anything like that, but we’ve had cases before where people have been hurt, we’ve had explosions, we’ve had situations where power has been knocked out or emergency communications lines have been knocked out,” Greenwood says. “If an excavator doesn’t call One Call before they dig, they are threatening themselves and they are threatening the public. We take these cases very seriously.”

The law has been in place for over two decades. Greenwood says anyone who digs has been required to make the call since 1993. Even with years of promoting the call-in number and high-profile cases, Greenwood doesn’t know why people still dig without taking the time to call.

“It’s hard to say, and there may be various reasons why they didn’t call. But one reason is not cutting costs, it’s a free call. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t call,” according to Greenwood. “We think that in some cases it’s possible that it was a case of poor planning. A company moved up a dig order or moved up a project and didn’t do so in time to call.”

The call center is open 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. The people in these seven cases face fines from $3,500 up to $5,000. “We handle these on a case-by-case basis. There are a situations where we have filed cases that resulted in a major threat to the public — there was a large explosion, there was a power outage, there was a communications outage. In other cases it was nothing more than the excavator got very close to a line and we still file cases,” Greenwood says.

Violators are subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 each day for violations related to natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines, and up to $1,000 each day involving other underground facilities.

Here is a summary of the cases:

Knutson Construction Services Midwest Inc. (Linn County)
According to Miller’s lawsuit, on July 22, 2013, Knutson Construction Services Midwest Inc., of Iowa City, conducted an excavation to remove concrete and install short vertical posts, called crash bollards, at the Cedar Rapids Public Library at 450 5th Avenue S.E. in Cedar Rapids. Knutson conducted the excavation within a few feet of a natural gas meter without first contacting the Iowa One Call notification center and, thereby, failed to provide notice to operators of underground facilities. During the excavation, Knutson hit and severed a one-inch diameter natural gas pipeline. Natural gas leaked but did not explode. MidAmerican Energy repaired the pipeline.

Leroy & Sons, Inc. (Palo Alto County)
District Court Judge Don E. Courtney ordered that Leroy & Sons Inc., of Arcadia, pay a $5,000 civil penalty and permanently enjoined the company from violating the One Call law. According to Miller’s lawsuit, on May 9, 2014, Leroy & Sons Inc. conducted an excavation to clean out a waterway in in rural Palo Alto County, Iowa, without first contacting the Iowa One Call notification center and, thereby, failed to provide notice to operators of underground facilities. During the excavation, the company’s bulldozer and road grader went directly over a four-inch diameter natural gas pipeline, removing six to eight inches of soil cover.
Norm Rozendaal Tiling Inc. (Jasper County)
According to Miller’s lawsuit, on November 1, 2013, Norm Rozendaal Tiling Inc., of Monroe, conducted an excavation to install drainage tile in rural Jasper County, without first contacting the Iowa One Call notification center and, thereby, failed to provide notice to operators of underground facilities. During the excavation, the company’s tiling equipment hit and damaged a four-inch diameter natural gas pipeline. The damage resulted in the release of natural gas and emergency response by Northern Natural Gas, the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, and the Monroe Fire Department. During pipeline repairs, Northern Natural Gas utilized natural gas bottle trucks to maintain service in Colfax, Prairie City, and Monroe.
Olmstead Construction Inc. (Linn County)
According to Miller’s lawsuit, on June 27, 2013, Olmstead Construction Inc., of Cedar Rapids, conducted an excavation at 101 8th Avenue in Marion, without first contacting the Iowa One Call notification center and, thereby, failed to provide notice to operators of underground facilities. During the excavation, the defendant’s backhoe hit and severed a one-inch diameter natural gas pipeline. Natural gas was released but did not explode. MidAmerican Energy subsequently repaired the pipeline.
Perez Construction (Woodbury County)
If approved by a judge, Sindy Perez d/b/a Perez Construction, of Sergeant Bluff, will pay a $3,500 civil penalty and will be permanently enjoined from further violations of the One Call law, through a proposed court order. According to Miller’s petition, on June 1, 2012, Perez Construction requested locates of underground facilities for an excavation to install a fence at 3104 Jones Street in Sioux City. During the excavation four days later, the company’s equipment hit and severed a one-inch diameter natural gas pipeline. The defendant failed to notify the owner of the pipeline, MidAmerican Energy, of the damaged pipeline. The defendant or the defendant’s employee attempted a crude repair to the pipeline by attaching a mechanical coupling, wrapping the pipeline with duct tape, pouring cement over the damaged pipeline, and then backfilling over the pipeline. Nearly two years later, a neighbor reported to MidAmerican Energy a strong odor of gas. MidAmerican Energy investigated and determined that the pipeline had been damaged and was leaking. MidAmerican turned off the gas flow and repaired the pipeline. The petition seeks civil penalties and injunctive relief.
Roy E. Plagge (Franklin County)
District Court Judge James M. Drew ordered that Roy E. Plagge, of Latimer, pay a $5,000 civil penalty and permanently enjoined Plagge from violating the One Call law. According to Miller’s lawsuit, on September 22, 2014, the defendant conducted an excavation to install drainage tile in rural Franklin County, without first contacting the Iowa One Call notification center and, thereby, failed to provide notice to operators of underground facilities. During the excavation, the defendant’s tiling equipment hit and damaged in two locations a four-inch diameter natural gas pipeline. The damage resulted in leaking natural gas but no explosion. The defendant notified the owner of the pipeline, Northern Natural Gas of the damaged pipeline. Northern Natural Gas, the Franklin County Sheriff, and the local fire department dispatched emergency response staff to the site. During pipeline repairs, Northern Natural Gas used natural gas bottle trucks to maintain service in Chapin, Rockwell, and Sheffield.

Wes Casson & Son, LLC (Pottawattamie County)
District Court Judge Timothy O’Grady Monday ordered that Wes Casson & Son LLC, of McClelland, pay a $5,000 civil penalty and permanently enjoined the company from violating the One Call law.  According to Miller’s lawsuit on November 11, 2013, the company conducted an excavation to install drainage tile and terraces in rural Pottawattamie County, without first contacting the Iowa One Call notification center and, thereby, failed to provide notice to operators of underground facilities. During the excavation, the company’s tiling equipment came to within seven feet of an eight-inch diameter natural gas pipeline, and during terracing went directly over the pipeline.

 

Mourners gather to remember girl killed in hunting accident

Liesel Castro (KCRG TV photo)

Liesel Castro (KCRG TV photo)

Family and friends gathered Monday evening in the town of Traer to grieve and show support for a family that lost a 12-year-old daughter. Liesel Casto was killed in an accident Saturday as she prepared to go deer hunting with her parents.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reports a muzzleloader rifle discharged as it was being loaded. A neighbor of the Casto family, Thad Espenscheid, spoke with KCRG-TV. “It’s a huge shock. It’s one of (those) jaw-dropping moments you hope you never hear,” Espenscheid said.

Liesel’s church youth group organized a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the family. Liesel’s uncle, Steve Staker, and her aunt, Gloria Whisner, remember Liesel as a girl who was full of energy and always had a smile on her face. “She was such a lover of nature and it was just the fact that she loved to be outdoors,” Staker said. “She loved life and enjoyed doing things with the family and just loved what she was doing and put everything into it,” Whisner added.

North Tama County Community School District Superintendent Bob Cue met with Liesel’s parents on Monday. “It’s tough. They are in shock. It’s a horrible thing,” Cue said. “It’s a tragedy. It’s a small town and we are like a family.” Liesel’s parents are Joshua and Joie Casto. They own Casto Armory, a gun shop in Traer.

A memorial fund has been established at the Farmers Savings Bank in Traer. Anyone interested in helping can simply mail a donation to the bank with a note that it’s for the Liesel Casto Memorial Account.

By Jill Kasperie, KCRG-TV

 

Named of girl killed in Tama County hunting accident released

The the Iowa DNR has confirmed the name of a girl who was killed in a hunting accident Saturday in Tama County. DNR spokesman, Joe Wilkinson, says county officials got the call at 7:40 A.M. “The investigation continues into it, but there was a group of three people that were preparing to set out to hunt in the muzzleloader season on Saturday morning when one of the muzzleloaders discharged ,” Wilkinson says. “The bullet struck the victim, in this case, a 12-year-old girl.”

The girl was identified as Liesel Casto of Traer. Casto was preparing to hunt with her parents. Wilkinson says these types of guns were used before the modern day type weapons. “A muzzleloader rifle is loaded one projectile, one bullet at a time and it can not be reloaded until that bullet is fired or removed and put back in again,” Wilkinson says. Wilkinson says he does not know the exact details of what happened in Casto’s death and the DNR is working the Tama County to piece that together.

He says the advice for muzzleloaders is the same as for any other weapon. “Treat it safely and make sure that it is pointed in the right direction and what we always try to tell people, is whenever that firearm is around, be aware of what the background is,” Wilkinson says.

Wilkinson says the deer season has been relatively safe thus far as this is the first hunting death in this hunting season. “It kind of continues a trend that we’ve had the last 10 to 12 years of zero to one or two fatalities, which is well down from years past,” Wilkinson says. “But again, any fatality or any injury is a tragedy.” The Waterloo Courier reports Casto’s parents,  Joshua and Joie Casto, own and operate Casto Armory, which is a gun and gunsmith shop.