Updated at 10:30 p.m.
WEST GARDINER — He was born, raised, educated and killed in this town, all within about a mile.
Ronald Hickey, 53, the owner of Hickey Tree Service, died Friday afternoon when he came in contact with a live utility wire in front of a house at 285 Spears Corner Road. He was in a boom clearing tree growth away from power lines, said Deputy Aaron Moody of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.
“We was born a mile down the road, and we went to school right here,” said brother Steve Hickey, nodding to the site of the Helen A. Thompson School, just north of the accident. “It’s too bad he died here. He’d been here his whole life.”
West Gardiner Fire Chief Chris McLaughlin said Hickey appeared to be killed instantly, citing neighbors and workers who were there. Gardiner firefighters also put out a small fire on the boom truck.
Hickey’s body remained in the boom, concealed under a tarpaulin, until it was taken away by a funeral home.
McLaughlin said a town firefighter across the road saw the incident and hurried to get to the station, just up the road.
“He said (Hickey) was slumped over and limp before he even left,” McLaughlin said. “No one survives a jolt like that.”
Central Maine Power spokesman John Carroll said Hickey was helping clear power lines with Lucas Tree Experts, one of five businesses with contracts to clear vegetation from near CMP lines. McLaughlin said Lucas was chipping limbs while Hickey was taking bigger logs away.
Steve Hickey is 11 month older than Ron, whose birthday was June 9. This was one of the times of year when they were both the same age.
“He’s worked in the woods his whole life,” said Steve Hickey. “I know he enjoyed it. Saturday, Sunday — don’t make no difference, two in the morning, somebody had a tree, he’d do it.”
There are six siblings in the Hickey family. Their father, Merton Hickey, is a town selectman.
“He has a nephew on the department,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just a big family.”
Steve Hickey said his brother was kind, a hard worker and giving. He lived on High Street, just behind the house they grew up in, and was married with a son in his 20s, a 4-year-old daughter and stepdaughter.
Ron, like many others in the family, had worked with trees nearly his whole life, Steve Hickey said. When the electricity hit him on Friday, his truck was nearly full.
“He was almost done,” Steve Hickey said. “One more bucket, he would have been done.”
Accident causes outage
Arnold Batson III, chief financial officer of Lucas Tree, couldn’t be reached Friday night.
Before details of the accident were known, Kathy Billups, area supervisor for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, confirmed that her office received a report of a workplace death in West Gardiner and would be investigating.
Carroll said jobs like the one Hickey was doing are typically done around live wires. Every year, he said, contractors clear vegetation, which is a main cause of outages, year-round from about 5,000 miles of line.
Carroll said during his 10 years at CMP, no worker has been killed in similar circumstances.
The accident caused a power outage. Around 2:15 p.m. Friday, about 6,900 people in Gardiner, West Gardiner, Litchfield, Farmingdale and Richmond lost power. All but 400 had power restored 30 minutes later, Carroll said. At 8:15 p.m., a CMP dispatcher said the outage was clear and remaining customers had power by 6:25 p.m.
The business has its risks, according to Jason Fitch, owner of Winslow-based J&L Tree Service.
And everyone in it knows that, he said.
“It only takes a split second and you don’t even have to come in contact with a line. These lines can arc,” he said, using the term for the charged area surrounding a line. “You need 110 percent attention out there.”
Steve Hickey, who’s also been in the logging business, said scares are normal in the industry, whether it be on skidders or near lines.
“It’s always scary” when close calls come up, he said. “You just laugh it off and keep on going.”
Fitch said his father worked for a national tree service company in the 1980s that did a study on accidents in the business.
“Their studies showed most accidents, especially on power lines, happen the (employee’s) first year or after 20 years of working,” he said. “The first year, you don’t have the experience. After 20 years, you get too comfortable.”
Steve Hickey couldn’t explain the accident.
“This is just a mistake,” he said. “It ain’t something he started doing yesterday. He’d done it his whole life and he knew all about it.”