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Questions remain in electrocution death of Aitkin man

Richard "Rick" Washburn

An investigation continues into the death of an Aitkin man who died after being electrocuted Oct. 4 on a job site near Wright.

Richard Roy Washburn, 30, worked for Ulland Brothers at the time of the accident.

According to Carlton County Transportation Director Wayne Olson, Washburn was working on the same culvert-replacement project as the two Carlton County surveyors who died in a traffic accident on their way to the job site Oct. 1.

Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said in a news release that her department, along with the Wright First Responders and Cromwell Ambulance, responded to a call at 1:34 p.m. Oct. 4 reporting that a man, later identified as Washburn, had been electrocuted near the corner of Center Road and East Mud Lake Road near Wright.

Michael Welch, president of Ulland Brothers, said the first responders on the scene administered chest compressions until the ambulance crew arrived, but Washburn was pronounced dead on his way to the Cloquet hospital.

Washburn was a native of Hill City and left behind two children -- a son and daughter, ages 5 and 2, respectively. He was devoted to his family and loved hunting and fishing, his girlfriend, Jessica Kelly, told a News Tribune reporter.

"He loved anything outdoors, family, friends," said Kelly, who had known Washburn for more than a decade and is the mother of his children. "He was a good dad, loved his kids. He was just a real average up-north boy."

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration was called to the scene on the day of the accident to launch an investigation into the circumstances that resulted in Washburn's death. James Honerman, communications director for OSHA's Minnesota office, said this week the case remains open and is still under investigation.

"Everyone has been very cooperative in the investigation," said Honerman, "and we expect it to be wrapped up in a couple of months."

Welch added there are still some unanswered questions about the incident. He confirmed that Washburn was not operating any machinery at the time of his electrocution and that his supervisor and two other employees were present when the incident occurred.

Washburn had been employed with Ulland Brothers, which has offices in Cloquet, Hibbing and Albert Lea, Minn., since July 2010.

"It's a great loss to have this type of fatality on the job site," Welch said Tuesday in a cell phone interview while on his way back from Washburn's funeral. "Even though we're a fairly large company, we are a close-knit group, on a first-name basis. Everyone pretty much knows everyone else."

Since the incident, Welch said he has spoken with Washburn's family members, as well as the employees who witnessed the incident, and offered whatever resources they might need, adding the company also has an Employee Assistance Program in place to help them deal with this type of loss.