A 65-year-old College Park man who had planned to retire as soon as the presidential inauguration ended fell more than 40 feet to his death yesterday when a scaffold to be used in an elaborate fireworks display at the inaugural kickoff collapsed next to the Lincoln Memorial.
Michael Kelpy of 9705 48th Pl., an employe of the Millstone Corp. in Marlow Heights, died at 2:20 p.m. of head injuries and a heart attack suffered in the accident.
Because of the accident and concerns about safety, officials canceled the ground fireworks display that was to project images of President-elect Ronald Reagan and Vice-President-elect George Bush and the inaugural seal on two 50-foot high scaffolds. The aerial fireworks display was not canceled.
Kelpy was working on securing the cables used to strengthen the scaffold when the accident occurred at 1:15 p.m., according to George Berklacy, a spokesman for the National Park Serice.
"I heard a person scream," said Berklacy, who along with others, was watching the last-minute preparations for the kickoff event. "I looked up and saw two men falling."
One of the men managed to escape serious injury by breaking his fall, witnesses said. Kelpy fell face down to the ground, they said.
A park police helicopter transported Kelpy to the Washington Hospital Center, where he died about an hour after the accident.
Berklacy said the collapsed scaffold was one of two 50-foot high scaffolds to be used in the ground fireworks display being put on by the Grucci family, whose New York Pyrotechnic Co. has become famous for its fireworks. f
He said the two workmen were trying to tighten the security lines that hold the scaffold in place when a strong gust of wind toppled the top tier of the scaffold, sending the men to the ground.
A part of this same scaffolding collapsed Friday night, but officials said no one was hurt then. That collapse also was blamed on the winds.
The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of 36-to-38 m.p.h. at the time of the two collapses.
According to Kelpy's niece, he had worked on erecting scaffolds most of his life. His company had often put up scaffolds for the television crews from the major networks. "He was retiring as soon as the inauguration was over," she said. "It was only because of the heavy workload that he was working now."
Kelpy, a native of Washington, is survived by his wife, Bernice.