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Father and son utility accidents a decade apart – to the day
Sept. 3, 2012

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

DELANO, MN – It’s not astonishing that Jim Griebel of Delano and his son, Matt, both have beards, wear blue jeans, and work at utility companies.

What is surprising, though, is that they also share the same exact date – July 16 – for a work-related accident 10 years apart.

Jim’s accident, July 16, 2002, was much more severe, but Matt’s accident July 16, 2012 still gave the Griebel family quite a shock.

“It just brought all those memories back; it was a flashback,” said Jim’s wife and Matt’s mother, Sandy.

July 16, 2002
Jim had been on an after-hours call with Delano Municipal Utilities (DMU) the evening of his accident, when he came in contact with an energized line.

“I was in a coma for 10 days,” Jim said.

On the helicopter flight to Hennepin County Medical Center, Jim was not breathing, and had to be resuscitated.

His hands had burn spots down to the bone, and his thumb was so badly damaged that it was amputated.

Jim has no memory of the accident, or the entire week beforehand.

“My memory goes back to the Thursday before, when I had been at a golf outing through the chamber of commerce,” Jim said.

When he woke up in the hospital, he assumed he had been in a car accident on the way home from the golf event.

For six months after the incident, Jim focused on physical therapy and recuperation.

As soon as he could, he went back to work at DMU.

“After my accident, a lot of people asked me if I was going back,” Jim said. “I hadn’t really thought about it. Why wouldn’t I? I like the guys I work with, and I like the work.”

Now in his 25th year at DMU, Jim said he “hasn’t regretted it yet.”

July 16, 2012
Matt, a 2003 graduate of Delano High School, was 17 when his dad was injured.

The incident didn’t sway Matt’s future plans, and he attended a year of electrical line school in Wadena before getting a job with Shakopee Public Utilities.

Everything went smoothly until one Monday morning this summer – July 16, of course – when Matt and three other workers were upgrading power lines to the state women’s correctional facility in Shakopee.

An electrical mishap resulted in injuries to all four employees.

Jay Abrahamson, who was working from a utility truck bucket, received the worst of it, with severe burns on multiple areas of his body. Employee Cody Schuett was also hospitalized for burns.

Matt, along with fellow employee Ryan Wermerskirchen, were both treated at St. Francis Regional Medical Center for less serious injuries.

Wermerskirchen’s eardrum was damaged in the accident, but he was able to return to work the following day.

Matt, who had minor burns on his hands and face, went back to work three weeks later.

The cause of the accident is still unclear. Jim said he heard there was an “arc flash,” in which powerful electric currents travel through the air.

“I’m not sure how it happened; they’re still investigating,” Matt said.

Sandy said she is grateful that Matt was not seriously hurt.

“You could tell where his safety glasses and helmet were,” she said. “The rest of his face was red.”

“My beard got singed,” Matt added.

He wore bandages for a week and a half, but has no lasting effects. He even recovered enough to be a groomsman in his friend’s wedding the weekend after the accident.

“It healed pretty quick,” Matt said.

Matt and Jim are both glad to be back at work now, doing what they enjoy.

“I get to be outside every day, and there’s never a dull moment,” Matt said.

He and his dad are both hoping for an uneventful July 16 next year, though.

“I’ve already taken that day off for the rest of my life,” Matt joked.

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