Electricity experts share how to survive crashes into utility poles

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BRYAN, Tex. (KBTX) - After several accidents in recent weeks involving vehicles and utility poles in our area, electricity experts offered their advice on what to do if that situation happens to you.

Experts say to stay in your vehicle and wait for help. If you can't, the best thing to do is jump out of your vehicle without touching it

"It takes one amp going through your heart can cause death," said David Werley, Bryan Texas Utilities Director of Business and Customer Operations.

He showed KBTX the safest way to exit a vehicle if it's crashed into a utility pole or nearby wires are down. Some examples might include if the vehicle catches fire.

"Always more safe obviously to stay in the vehicle if you can just wait for first responders to get here," said Werley.

"If you exit the car you would come out keeping your feet together and then you would just shuffle as you go not lifting your feet off the ground just kind of shuffle and this keeps the electricity from coming up one side and down and into the other side at a different rate, that would actually electrocute you," said Werley.

Last Tuesday, a Hearne woman was hurt after her vehicle crashed in Robertson County into a power pole. DPS Troopers gave an update Monday and said 36-year-old Lisa Gallegos and two children were inside the vehicle that crashed on FM 50. Troopers said she was electrocuted when she got out and stepped on a wire in the dark. She was airlifted to a Houston hospital for her injuries.

Werley said you should always assume wires are live.

"A lot of times if a line hasn’t contacted the ground it's just right above your car it can still energize parts of the car," he said. "But the car since it’s sitting on rubber tires has a good insulation to the ground so if possible it's better to just stay with the car at all times," Werley added.

"They're short poles and we do that so we can keep the linemen down here to the ground and we can explain to them what we're doing," said Phillip Mullen. He's an Instructor with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service teaching linemen and electricity professionals.

Out at the Texas A&M RELLIS Campus, they have classrooms and an outdoor lineman field. Mullen gave KBTX a tour. He also said staying in your vehicle is typically the safest place.

"Your passengers need to stay in there and anyone that’s coming up to help needs to stay back and stay away from it until the utility or the emergency people can get there and we make sure that it’s de-energized," said Mullen.

He also said while it's challenging, try not to panic.

"It doesn't happen often, but it does happen and that's one of if you've got a little bit of knowledge about what you're trying to do again if it's at all possible just stay in the car if you're staying in the car you're not going to get hurt," he said.

Something else they mentioned is the electricity spreads more in wet or muddy ground than if it's drier. Experts said if you are a passerby and want to help, avoid getting too close to the scene and becoming a victim yourself.

DPS Troopers believe the driver of last week's crash was traveling at an unsafe speed. The two children in the vehicle were not injured but were taken to the hospital as a precaution.