FL - Rodent blamed in outage

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Traffic accident leaves driver dead BY LUISA YANEZ lyanez@herald.com

A rat gnawing at electrical wires knocked out street signals near Miami International Airport Sunday morning -- which may have led to a fatal crash involving a Miami-Dade police officer and a security guard.

The power outage -- lasting from 6:45 to 7:30 a.m. and blacking out an industrial neighborhood southwest of the airport -- is significant, Miami-Dade Police said Tuesday, because both drivers apparently failed to realize the traffic signal was out as they approached the intersection at Milam Dairy Road and Northwest 12th Street.

Carlos Pascual, 43, of Miami, died at the scene following the 7:19 a.m. collision between the patrol car and the 1980 Buick Pascual was driving. He was a security guard headed home from a late-night shift. His mother, Ana Suarez, 70, who had kept him company, was his passenger. She remained hospitalized at Jackson Memorial Hospital Tuesday night.

Officer William Rial, 57, was slightly injured in his cruiser. He was treated and released, and is at home recovering.

At the time of the accident, Rial, working the day shift out of the Doral station, was answering a burglar alarm call, police said.

Traffic homicide investigators said Tuesday they are focusing on both drivers' failure to stop at the intersection on their own.

``State law says that if traffic signals are out, all drivers have to treat it as a four-way stop,'' police spokesman Ed Munn said.

``It looks like there is 50-50 responsibility here.''

No charges have been filed.

Pascual's relatives deny he was responsible in any way for the accident. They have placed flowers and placards at the intersection. One reads: ``Here's where they killed Carlos Pascual.''

According to the preliminary crash report, Pascual was northbound on Milam Dairy Road and Rial was eastbound on Northwest 12th Street. Police say both were traveling at around 40 miles an hour -- within the speed limit -- when they collided.

Area merchants told traffic investigators that the power in the neighborhood had gone out shortly before the accident.

A Florida Power & Light spokeswoman said Tuesday that utility workers determined the outage was caused by a rodent they found electrocuted near a transformer in a power substation serving the largely industrial area.

``It looks like the rat got into the electrical connection and caused the transformer to malfunction, knocking out power to the area for about 40 minutes,'' spokeswoman Kathy Scott said.

FPL workers who were called to the area to make repairs had the lights back on by 7:30 a.m., 10 minutes after the accident occurred, Scott said. The blackout affected about 1,500 customers.

Rhonda Barnett, spokeswoman for Miami-Dade County, said Tuesday the traffic light was in proper working order before the outage.

``The light was cycling properly before the power was lost, and it was cycling properly after the power came back,'' she said.

State records show both Pascual and Rial have some traffic infractions on their driving records.

Pascual was ticketed in 1997 for driving under the influence. He attended driving school and completed a substance abuse course, Florida driver's records show.

During his 19 years on the force, Rial was involved in five accidents while on the job. The crashes, between 1982 and 1996, were all classified as minor and ruled ``unpreventable'' by the department. Four of them occurred in parking lots. None caused more than $1,000 in property damage. There were no injuries, Rial's personnel file shows.

However, in 1992, Rial was ticketed for driving with an open alcoholic container, records show. That citation was not in his personnel file, and thus may have occurred off-duty. He had 1.5 points levied against his driver's license.


-- Doris (nocents@bellsouth.net), January 03, 2001

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