Andrew Forrest had no idea how much danger he faced when he climbed into a boom lift and ascended some 80 feet to hang Christmas lights at an Englewood home three years ago.
Midway through the job that day, Forrest was severely shocked when a pole he was using to hang lights fell into live power lines. He sued the company he was working for at the time — recently settling for $2 million — and still suffers significant injuries, burns and challenges from the incident.
“I would never have gone up there if I knew I could lose my life or have it be impacted the way it has been,” he said.
Forrest, an Aurora resident, blames his employer for putting him in a dangerous situation, and now that the court case is over, he hopes publicly sharing his ordeal will warn others about his employer and help protect other workers who may face unsafe working conditions this holiday season.
“Watch out for that one”
The day of the accident began like any other.
Forrest was working as an independent contractor for Neil Fancher, the manager at Rocky Mountain Sign Design & Print, a business based in Wyoming that is owned by Fancher’s wife, Tammy Klasinski. Forrest had been hired to do work for Denver Christmas Light Installers, an unofficial division of the sign company.
On Dec. 3, 2019, Forrest climbed into a boom lift outside the Englewood home and Fancher steered it beside a tree, close to overhead power lines. Fancher shouted a casual warning to stay clear of the power lines, Forrest said.
“He was like, ‘Watch out for that one, it’s live,’” Forrest said. “And I was like, ‘Which one?’ And he was like, ‘Just don’t hit any of them.’”
Forrest trusted Fancher’s expertise and figured he’d have arranged to have the power lines shut off if they posed a significant threat, he said.
“I wasn’t thinking I was in imminent danger,” he said.
After maneuvering the lift into place, Fancher left Forrest to the work. Forrest quickly fell into a rhythm, he said, using a fiberglass pole to hang the lights on the tree.
“Anyone can clip (lights) on a house,” he said. “Trees are where the art form is… I’m not thinking about the potential of hitting power lines, I’m just focused on hanging the tree and moving the bucket.”
But then, about halfway down the tree, the lift brushed the power lines.
Forrest saw a spark and felt the electricity and tried to move away, but as he did his pole fell over and into the lines. Electricity shot through the pole, into the metal lift Forrest stood in, and into his body. The charge traveled through his hands and arms, into his belt and his stomach, and out his rear leg.
He lurched away, leaning over the edge of the boom lift. When the shock ended, he was conscious and breathing, but he couldn’t move. The air smelled like burning flesh.
“I couldn’t use my hands,” he said. “They were basically like cheese. I couldn’t do anything with my arms.”
He spent the next 11 days in the hospital, and since then has endured around three dozen surgeries aimed at repairing some of the damage. He lost mobility in his hands and suffered third-degree burns, his energy levels are low and he experiences chronic pain. Within two years, his medical bills topped $2.1 million, according to the civil lawsuit he later filed against Fancher, who denies any liability.
“It wiped out my body,” Forrest said. “Everything about who I was before is gone. I’m definitely a whole different person as a result of it. It just changes you emotionally, spiritually and physically.”
“You trust people because their veterans”
A U.S. Army veteran, Forrest was studying to become an accountant when he first encountered Fancher. Forrest agreed to work for him in part because Fancher was also an Army veteran, Forrest said.
“Veterans, especially in combat arms, you come out and you have trust issues… and you trust people because they’re veterans,” Forrest said. “Even if you shouldn’t.”
Fancher told The Denver Post in an email that he served as a helicopter mechanic in the Army from 1985 to 1988. The National Personnel Records Center said Fancher served in the U.S. Army Reserve, Army National Guard, but did not perform any active duty outside of training.
Fancher claimed to be an electrician, Forrest said, but records show Fancher is not a licensed electrician in Colorado or in Wyoming.
Forrest didn’t check into Fancher’s history before he took the job hanging Christmas lights, but a review of Fancher’s past shows a string of lawsuits, soured business dealings and a 2005 arrest on charges of impersonating a firefighter and trying to influence a public servant.
Fancher and Klasinski together have been the registered agents for at least seven different sign and printing companies in Colorado between 2004 and 2017, according to records from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. Klasinski did not return a request for comment.
Bee Innovative Signs and Banners was registered to Klasinski in 2004. Court records show Fancher worked there in 2005. Bee Innovative Signs and Banners was sued six times between 2007 and 2008 for failure to pay for equipment, failure to pay rent and failure to pay for services, records show.
That company became delinquent in 2009, state records show. Next came Complete Signs LLC, registered to Fancher in 2008 and delinquent in 2014; that company was sued in 2016 for failing to pay rent. Another company, Easy Channel Letters LLC, was registered to Fancher in 2008 and became delinquent in 2010, after being sued for a bounced check in 2009.
Then there was Complete Digital Image Solutions, registered in 2013 to Fancher, sued in 2014 for breach of contract, and delinquent in 2017.
Klasinski registered Rocky Mountain Sign, Design & Print in Wyoming in 2016, according to business records from the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office. The business is headquartered in Sheridan, Wyoming, the records show.
At least three of the pair’s companies have seen bad online reviews during the last decade, The Post found. One review in 2009 was titled, “I think I just got reamed by Easy Channel Letters LLC.” Three reviewers of Complete Signs LLC commented on Yelp in 2015, 2017 and 2020 about bad experiences with the business, and a 2021 reviewer of Rocky Mountain Sign Design & Print warned other potential customers to stay away.
“What he does is, once he starts having issues with not paying bills or lawsuits, he just changes the name and keeps it going,” Forrest said.
Fancher did not return phone calls seeking comment and declined to discuss his businesses in emails with The Post, but said over email that Forrest’s electric shock was “a terrible accident.”
“The No. 1 thing we stress is safety,” Fancher wrote in an email. “We tell everybody if you’re not comfortable, don’t do it.”
A review of Fancher’s criminal history shows he was arrested by Westminster police in 2005 on charges of impersonating a firefighter, attempting to influence a public servant and failing to yield the right-of-way.
He was accused of assuming the “false or fictitious identity” of a Lake Dillon Fire District firefighter, according to charging documents, and of attempting to deceive two police officers. Fancher pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant as part of a deferred judgment; the other two charges were dismissed, records show.
He denied that he impersonated a firefighter in an email to The Post.
“I never impersonated a Fire Fire FireFighter (sic),” he wrote. “You need to check your facts on the arrest. I have my Firefighter 1 and hazmat certified through the state of Colorado.”
He did not provide any further context or support for his claim. The Lake Dillon Fire Protection District was a volunteer organization at the time and has since merged into a new organization that does not keep records of volunteers from 2005. The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control said Fancher was certified between 1999 and 2002 as a firefighter and hazardous material operator. The certification expired in 2002.
“My attorney has told me to only respond with my first email,” Fancher wrote. “It is difficult for me to stand here when my character is being assaulted.”
“I didn’t use good judgment”
After his near-electrocution, Forrest was angry with Fancher for a long time, and he still holds Fancher responsible for putting him in a dangerous situation.
“I don’t know if I blame him for it, because ultimately I went up in the bucket and I didn’t use good judgment,” Forrest said. “But I blame him for — I feel like he took advantage of me… He threw me in there when there was a live power line and he knew the damage it could do and he didn’t get the power turned off prior to.”
Fancher said in an email that Forrest went through safety training when he started the job and emphasized that although the lawsuit was settled, the company still denies any liability.
“Andrew went through an extensive two-day safety training with one day of actual safety training in a real live situation on a home,” Fancher said in an email. “He also had training on the lift.”
Forrest said Fancher showed him once how to operate the lift, but denied having received any safety training.
Forrest wanted to speak out about his experience with Rocky Mountain Sign, Design & Print and Denver Christmas Light Installers to try to stop other contract workers from signing on with Fancher this season and in the future, he said.
“Those kids that he hires, those random people off the street, they’re going to be in danger,” Forrest said. “I want to name that and have it out there. But also I just feel like it’s one of those stories of overcoming adversity and finding a way to overcome the emotional aspect of it. And maybe I’m not fully over it, but I think I’ve come a long way.”
Forrest’s wife was seven months pregnant when he was shocked. For the first couple weeks after their son was born, Fancher had to use pliers to change the infant’s diapers. His health has improved since then, but he’s still physically limited.
He’s transitioned from being right-handed to using his left hand because of the damage to his right; both hands were in splints for most of the first year after the accident. He tires easily and typing or sending messages is difficult.
He now owns his own cleaning company, Forrest Cleaning. He registered the company, which also hangs Christmas lights, three months before his accident and poured into it during his recovery, going into debt to keep it afloat. He realizes now, looking back, that he focused on keeping the business running as a way of trying to deny his own new physical limitations.
“I just fought that realization that I’m disabled now,” he said.
The company grew to include two full-time workers and a part-time position — but as he’s accepted his disability, Forrest has started to look for a career that is less physically demanding. He expects to close the company down after this Christmas season.
“Every day I try to be that example of someone who is not going to let this define me even though it is so present every day,” Forrest said. “I can see all my wounds and feel them. It’s changed so much about me as a person. It’s been a long marathon and a long journey.”
Source: Read Full Article