Michael E. Ashurst was intrigued by electricity, relatives said. Hired as a teenager by Pepco, he earned a college degree in electrical engineering while employed by the utility. For three decades, he worked around high voltage.
Officials of the utility and Prince George's County authorities said that yesterday morning, as Ashurst worked at a Pepco plant in Adelphi, he came in contact with a charged line and was electrocuted. He was pronounced dead at the scene in the 2800 block of Metzerott Road, and a state and federal investigation into the circumstances of his death was immediately opened, said Robert Dobkin, a spokesman for Pepco.
Dobkin said officials had few details about the incident. He said that Ashurst, 47, who was assigned to the company's control center in Montgomery County, was sent yesterday to check on a problem at the Adelphi plant.
"This is a terrible tragedy, and we all feel it," Dobkin said. He said it was the second such fatality this year. In February, Pepco worker Sam Hindman died after he was burned over 90 percent of his body while working on an electrical feeder. Prior to that, Dobkin said, there hadn't been an on-the-job fatality in the Pepco workforce in more than 10 years.
Capt. Chauncey Bowers, a spokesman for the county's fire department, said firefighters were called to the utility substation when a small grass fire was reported shortly after 8 a.m. When firefighters arrived, he said, they learned that Ashurst was missing. His body was found moments later surrounded by electrical wires.
The substation where Ashurst died provides power to the area around the University of Maryland.
Dennis R. Wraase, chief executive of Pepco Holdings Inc., said in a letter distributed to employees yesterday that safety was of great importance to the company. Among those employees was Ashurst's wife, Trina, who works in Pepco's revenue department. Wraase urged employees to pay close attention to their surroundings and to identify ways to make their work environments safer. Grief counselors, he wrote, would be made available to all employees.
Ashurst's nephew, Adam Ashurst, said yesterday that his uncle was "full of life," a family man who doted on his stepdaughter, whom he helped raise for 17 years, and who looked after his nieces and nephews.
"He was just a real caring guy who enjoyed being around his family," said Adam Ashurst, 28. "He really enjoyed his life and his pets and his wife and their daughter. He did well for himself, from humble beginnings in Charles County to going to college and getting his degree."
Ashurst lived with his wife in Laurel, his nephew said. They were married for less than a year, although they had lived together for 16 years, Adam Ashurst said. He said Michael Ashurst was the only father that Trina Ashurst's 23-year-old daughter has known.
Adam Ashurst said his uncle would be remembered as a "gadget freak," someone who "loved to see how things worked."
"He also loved computers and all kinds of gizmos. He had motion-sensor lights before they became cliche and had a server farm in his basement with lots of computers," he said. "He was very much into electronics and editing music, making songs sound louder or better."
Ashurst also looked after five dachshunds. "He loved those dogs, had pictures of them everywhere," Adam Ashurst said. "Part of what makes this so hard is we just saw him on Saturday. We have that last day, and we have many great memories that we're always going to keep of him."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.