Teen shocked while taking photos atop Northdale power pole will be paralyzed

TAMPA — Alexander Davidson wanted to photograph the setting sun, so he climbed a TECO power pole to get the best angle, his stepfather said Friday.

The 16-year-old is ambitious like that. As a boy, he climbed trees. As a high school freshman, he ascended into a coveted stage production role at Blake High School, a position one might expect a senior to fill.

Teacher Nelson Torres said Davidson spent his hours after school and on weekends helping design the centerpiece set for the school's performance of A Few Good Men.

It was a 27-foot tower. He climbed that, too.

On Thursday night, Davidson didn't know any of the peewee football players or cheerleaders practicing below him on the Northdale Soccer Field. His stepfather said he was focused on the sky before witnesses heard a bang and saw him fall about 35 feet to the ground.

He had touched a high voltage line.

On Friday, his mother, Lea Davidson-Bern, watched the son she calls Avi — a Boy Scout, an athlete, an aspiring soldier — cling to life at Tampa General Hospital. Burns now cover half his body. Doctors tell her he is paralyzed.

The boy who loved to lift weights and hike, who wanted to one day join the Israeli military, underwent surgery Friday to stabilize his spine so that he'll be able to manage in a wheelchair.

On a phone call from the hospital, the mother cried when she spoke about the implications of this accident on her son's future.

"It's scary. It's really scary," the mother said. "It changes your life forever."

Davidson is an adventurer, a backpacker. He started Boy Scouts as a Cub and has his sights set on Eagle, said his scoutmaster Mark Nusekabel. In Troop 339, Davidson is also a den chief, a mentor to the newest, youngest Scouts.

On camping trips, Davidson was always the first to want to explore, "to see what's around the next corner."

Davidson attended Orange Grove Middle School and Blake High School. Both concentrate on the arts. At Blake, he majored in acting, but developed a real passion for stagecraft, his teacher said. His ideas were fresh. He was bright and thirsty for knowledge. Torres called him a "shining" student.

He transferred to Gaither High this year because the bus ride to Blake was too long, his stepfather said. The Blake students missed him. Torres knew Davidson had continued pursuing stagecraft in his new school, and his stepfather said he had recently started learning about developing photos in a darkroom.

His stepfather said he had never known Davidson to do anything dangerous like climb power poles to take a photo.

The Northdale Soccer Field, just steps from his home, is a hodgepodge of power poles, anchored by wires and connected by lines. A nearby substation warns Danger: High Voltage, but the posts themselves display no warnings.

They also don't look easy to climb.

It is unclear what made Davidson touch the power line, but the result is written in science. Electricity, by its nature, seeks the easiest path to the ground and will travel through any conductor available. Water is a great conductor. People are made of 70 percent water.

Davidson was shocked, and then fell the equivalent of four stories.

"If he survives, it's going to be a long haul for him," his mother said. "It's going to be a lot for him to deal with."

His scoutmaster says he will have to talk to the boys about what happened to Davidson.

"Being adventurous is good," he says he'll tell them, "But you need to know when you're taking it a little too far."

He said he wants Davidson to know that he's still part of the troop. Even paralysis won't prevent him from becoming an Eagle Scout.

"The only thing that's going to keep him from making it is if he decides he doesn't want to anymore," the scoutmaster said.

His stepfather said the family is hopeful.

Davidson has been mostly sedated since he got to the hospital Thursday night, his mother said. He's spoken to her.

But his mother is not sure he understands what's to come.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Marlene Sokol contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Teen shocked while taking photos atop Northdale power pole will be paralyzed 10/02/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 3, 2009 3:35am]

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