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Man hit by steel beam at mill

July 27, 1998|By SHEILA HOTCHKIN

SMITHSBURG - A steel beam dropped by a crane at a Smithsburg demolition site hit a man in the back of the head as he walked to work Saturday morning, Mayor Tommy Bowers said.

Eddie Stoneberger, 47, who lives next door to the property on South Main Street, was in critical condition at Washington County Hospital on Sunday night, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

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Further details of the accident evaded residents. Bowers said he did not think the police had been called, although he expects Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) to investigate this week.

Maryland State Police and the Washington County Sheriffs Department confirmed they had not heard of the accident. The Smithsburg police are off duty on weekends.

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One question that has arisen is whether Victor C. Ditto, the contractor, barricaded the road beside the demolition site before the accident occurred.

"The street wasn't blocked off or nothing," said Jake Keller, a Smithsburg resident and one-time Ditto employee. Stoneberger's family also believes the site was not barricaded.

Bowers was less certain: "Everyone I've talked to so far said the street wasn't blocked off. I didn't see it myself."

The mayor said he asked Ditto to barricade the streets before demolishing the one-time mill and farm store of the Chewsville Cooperative Association, which has since been auctioned off. Ditto readily agreed, the mayor said.

But on Friday, Bowers saw the job had begun without barricades. He provided them himself and by Friday night, he said the area was blocked.

Some neighbors said that changed on Saturday when the workers returned.

"They said Friday it was roped off and Saturday it wasn't," said Richard Webb, Stoneberger's nephew.

Ditto could not be reached for comment Sunday.

"I don't know what to believe because you hear so much," said Bobby Rohrer, an 11-year member of Smithsburg's volunteer fire department who once worked there with Stoneberger.

Several were also disturbed by the lack of police presence.

"I don't understand why the police weren't there," Keller said. "I don't understand why a report wasn't filed."

A spokesman from the Maryland State Police said that while people often call the police about serious accidents, it is not necessary and such cases fall under the jurisdiction of MOSH.

The mayor called MOSH after hearing about the accident.

"It's obvious that something went wrong down there," he said. "But obviously, I'm not an expert in that area and I want the people who are to look at it."

Webb said his uncle's brain has swollen. "They can't actually tell how bad it is until the swelling goes down," he said.

Stoneberger was disoriented Sunday night and could not talk, Webb said.

He said he found out about the accident while talking to a librarian, who had heard about the accident but did not know the two were related.

"Then she said who it was and I was like, 'That's my uncle!'" Webb said.

Some members of Stoneberger's family are angry about the accident, but most are simply waiting to see what details surface, Webb said.

Stoneberger, who lives with his sister and a niece, has a reputation as a people person.

"He'd do anything in the world for you," Webb said, recalling how his uncle helped him get over the death of his father. "Even if he hated your guts, he'd do something for you."

Said Keller: "He's an awful nice guy - just happy-go-lucky."

Stoneberger worked at Bisbee's Auctioneering in town, and also helped out at the local volunteer fire department.

By Saturday afternoon, his absence was noticed and missed.

"The sale today for July the 25th will be canceled due to an accident this morning with one of our team workers here," said a woman's voice on the answering machine of the auction house.

It later concluded: "Thank you for you patronage and please pray for Eddie."

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