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Plant worker dies from injuries

A 49-year-old man died early Friday afternoon from injuries he suffered in an accident at a coal-burning power plant at Progress Energy Florida's Crystal River complex.

The accident occurred about 8 p.m. Thursday when plant operator William T. "Bill" Bowers was opening a valve on a high-pressure pump that circulates water through the plant's boiler, according to a manager with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Crystal River. The IBEW represents about 1,900 Progress Energy Florida employees.

A power plant's boiler produces steam that is used to turn a giant turbine. The rotation of the turbine generates electricity.

Workers at the scene recounted that as Bowers was turning a wheel to open the pump valve, the valve exploded, hitting Bowers in the head and arm with metal debris, said W.O. "Butch" Enyard, business manager for System Council U-8 of the IBEW.

Emergency medical crews treated Bowers at the scene, and he was flown by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital, according to Citrus County Sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney. He died there early Friday afternoon.

Authorities said Bowers, a resident of the small Levy County town of Yankeetown, was on the third floor of the Crystal River complex's Unit 2 coal plant. No one else was injured in the accident, Enyard said. He noted that subcontractors had done maintenance work on the valve during a routine shutdown of Unit 2 last fall.

Bowers' death was the first on-the-job employee fatality at Progress, formerly Florida Power Corp., since the early 1990s, when two linemen, a special-equipment operator and a power-plant worker died in separate accidents.

In 1995, a 27-year-old ironworker employed by CB Power, a Florida Power subcontractor, slipped from a steel platform at the Unit 2 coal plant and fell 70 feet to his death. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration later fined CB Power $2,500 for failing to provide safety nets at the site.

OSHA was informed of Thursday's accident and is launching an investigation that, depending on the complexity of the probe, could take up to six months, according to OSHA Tampa area director Les Grove.

Progress is also investigating the accident, company spokesman Mac Harris said. He said the company could not provide further details about the accident until the investigation is complete.

As of late Friday afternoon, the Sheriff's Office was not investigating the incident. But Tierney said OSHA may request the department's assistance.

Bowers was a 20-year veteran of the company, Enyard said.

"He was a guy who came in and did his job every day," he said. "He was well-liked by his co-workers."

_ Suzannah Gonzales can be reached at (352) 860-7312 or Times staff writers Barbara Behrendt, Alex Leary and Richard Raeke contributed to this report.