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Ex-soldier electrocuted on ‘Selma’ film set can barely pay rent

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A lighting technician has lost his career after receiving up to 25,000 watts of electricity on the set of ‘Selma’.

Ronnie Sands has worked in the film industry for over 20 years, but he can no longer work due to an on­-set accident that has severely impacted his quality of life.

Sands pursued a career in the film industry after he received an honorable discharge from the United States Army as a 1st Lieutenant. He then joined I.A.T.S.E. Local 479 to work on film productions, commercials and music videos as a set lighting technician. After moving to Hollywood from Atlanta in 1997, Sands joined I.A.T.S.E. Hollywood Teamsters Local 399.

In June of last year, Sands was setting up lights on the Oscar nominated film ‘Selma’ at the Wheat Street Baptist Church back in Atlanta when he sustained a severe electric shock resulting in constant ringing in his head, chronic migraines, short-term memory loss, blurred vision, anxiety, heart palpitations and mobility issues in his right arm along with other side effects.

Following the accident Sands’ family have set up a crowdfunding campaign asking people for donations.

This statement was provided to us by Sands’ fiancee who has been trying to find support to get him back on his feet.

The incident:

“On June 4, 2014, a decision was made by the higher-ups to change the 20k Tungsten lights on the condors which were shining through the church stained glass windows because the light wasn’t bright enough, and they wanted to change to 18k HMI. (Everything had already been set-up by the rigging crew prior to that day of filming.)

This put the first unit electrics into a big rush. Ronnie said he and the electric crew downloaded the 20ks off the condors and onto the stakebed truck, they all got into the truck, the driver drove them to the electric truck, the crew swapped out the 20ks for 18ks, and then they all went back to the church in the same stakebed truck.

The electric crew then started heading up the fixtures when Ronnie’s boss noticed they forgot to get the 18k HMI globes which are stored in a separate case since they can cost up to $10,000 each. His boss told Ronnie to run back to the electric truck, which was around the block, and get the globes and carry them back. Ronnie did so, got back and started globing up one of the fixtures on a condor while the rest of the electric crew were tying the header cable down the condor.

The electrics all knew what Ronnie was doing, and he had no idea that they had already connected the header cable to the fixture while he was still working on it while inside the fixture. What caught Ronnie’s attention was that he felt the condor move a little bit, and he peeked around the side and noticed his boss going to plug the header cable into the ballast.

Ronnie asked him to wait until he was finished installing the globe, and the fixture was closed up. His boss told Ronnie to shut up, the breaker was off, and he plugged it in anyway. Ronnie had no time to react because it all happened so fast. There were several crew members who witnessed everything that happened.

To this day, Ronnie doesn’t know what happened to cause the electric shock. He has globed up hundreds of 18k HMIs but has never had anyone plug it in while he was still inside the fixture and globing. He also doesn’t know if it was a defective piece of equipment involved, a scorched 220 volt snake bite, that caused the extreme shock, or his boss’s error, or both. He was trusting his fellow crew members and, most importantly, his boss, to keep him safe.

Another thing that has been brought to our attention is that we don’t know how much power really passed through Ronnie’s body. An 18k HMI ignition pulse is probably in the neighborhood of 20,000-25,000 watts, so it could have been as much as 25,000 watts that went through Ronnie’s body.”

Ronnie is currently waiting to see more specialists and has had to go thru a difficult process after the payroll company put him on Georgia’s Workers Compensation. The production allegedly didn’t follow the correct procedures in notifying his union, I.A.T.S.E. Local 479, until 1 month after the incident according to Sands’ fiancée, Kelly Shure:

“I can’t believe production didn’t notify the union at all until a month later when I did. Also, production never notified OSHA. I called OSHA in November to notify them of the incident after reading articles about the tragedy of Sarah Jones and seeing that OSHA had fined ‘The Midnight Rider’ for failing to comply with safety protocols. Curiosity got the best of me, and after being on the phone for an hour, I finally got the number to an OSHA local office. They had no knowledge of Ronnie’s incident ever happening. The duty officer that I spoke to told me there is a 6 month statute of limitations, and the incident that happened on June 4, 2014 should have been reported immediately to them. Since it was so close to the 6 month limitation, which was December 4, 2014, OSHA didn’t have the time to open an incident, investigate, and conclude with the findings of the complaint within the 6 month limitation.

However, since I did call before the 6 month limit had expired, OSHA made an inquiry to the payroll company, who was called “the employer,” and they said they weren’t responsible, and that Selma Productions LLC was responsible, but no one from OSHA could get in touch with Selma Productions LLC because all parties and equipment had packed up and gone home and everything was no longer in the state of Georgia.

The part about the equipment being gone from the state of GA is not true…the electric equipment came from Paramount on Location here in Atlanta, and since there were so many productions going on this past summer, a lot of the equipment was being built at Paramount on Location in Atlanta in­-house to keep up with the demand.

The equipment should have been returned to the rental house, and there should be a paper trail of the return of the defective 220 volt snake bite which we also haven’t been provided a copy of.

We want to know where did Ronnie’s boss learn it is ok to plug in an HMI while the breaker is off and think that it’s ok. Who taught him these things? We are just so frustrated.”

Medical records provided to the Film Industry Network show how Sands received an independent neurological evaluation and had no “prior surgeries and no other major medical problems,” before the incident took place.

According to a crew member who did not want to be identified, the production had:

“…made sure they got Worker’s Comp and went above and beyond what they had to do. They made a concerted effort to make sure everyone was as safe as possible. We had multiple safety meetings. This was a special shoot.” ­- Deadline Hollywood

It is unclear whether Sands will be able to receive additional compensation for the injury, or if an investigation of the incident will ever take place. Sands has had to turn down opportunities to work on many productions due to his injury, and he has struggled to pay rent and utilities, along with other bills, from the State benefits he has been receiving.

There is currently a Gofundme campaign online where people can pitch in to help support him financially during this difficult time. http://www.gofundme.com/ronniesfund.

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