LARGO — Day and night, the lattice of power lines behind Progress Energy's Largo substation drones with a fatal current of electricity. When it is humid and dark, neighbors say, you can sometimes see sparks fly off the wires.
Kristopher Fox had grown accustomed to the reservoir of energy at 1415 East Bay Drive, next door to his apartment complex. But things changed early Friday afternoon, when he said he heard an explosion and his lights went out.
Fox, 27, is studying to be a medical assistant at nearby Everest University. He emerged from his apartment in blue scrubs, blinking into the midday light, and saw flames. Part of the expansive, coarsely mowed field between two fenced-off substation compounds was on fire.
Fox approached, expecting crowds or commotion. Nobody was around.
Beside the fire he saw a man.
"Next thing I know, I'm on my phone calling 911," Fox recalled in an interview Friday.
The man was on his back in the grass next to a metal ladder, rocking or convulsing — Fox couldn't quite describe the movement, which was unlike anything he'd seen. The man's face was blue and his eyes were open.
Fox checked for a pulse. Nothing. He began performing the chest compressions he'd learned in school, driving his out-turned palms into the stranger's chest, trying to force oxygenated blood to spread through his body.
Two men ran over from the L&S Bait Co. next door. One began breathing into the victim's mouth, Fox said, while another put out the flames with a fire extinguisher.
"I got him breathing for about 10 seconds," Fox said.
Fire engines and paramedics arrived. They would later say Fox and the bait company workers had taken a risk in rushing to the scene to help the man. Live wires were down in the field, and they could have electrocuted themselves.
Largo police Lt. Steve Slaughter said the man had been painting a building for the bait company when he accidentally touched live wires overhead with his ladder. Largo Deputy Fire Chief Shelby Willis said the man died where he lay in the grass as paramedics arrived on scene.
L&S Bait Co. chief operating officer Eric Bachnik said the man was a contractor the company hired for a painting job. He said his employees who had helped in the initial resuscitation effort didn't want to talk about the incident.
Police had not disclosed the victim's identity Friday evening.
Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said the utility is investigating the circumstances of the deadly electrocution, which she said was "very tragic." She said about 120 customers in the area lost power for several hours Friday afternoon because of the incident.
Fox stood with his arms crossed outside his apartment building Friday, watching as police and firefighters came and went around the victim's body, draped beneath a white sheet. His medical training has only been going on for a few months.
"I did everything I could do," he said.
Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.