Community rallies to help family after tragic accident

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(Courtesy photo via GOFUNDME) Tributes and donations are pouring into an online fundraising site to help the family of a Sagle resident who died while working on a transmission line in southcentral Washington state on Tuesday.

SANDPOINT — Tributes and donations are pouring into an online fundraising site to help the family of a Sagle resident who died while working on a transmission line in southcentral Washington state on Tuesday.

By Wednesday evening, the GoFundMe page had raised more than $85,000, with many of the donations coming from friends and loved ones in Bonner County from also from linemen from around the region.

“Yesterday the world lost a truly amazing soul … Cliff’s zest for life and smile were infectious. He was a genuinely funny, kind, caring, hardworking and devoted family man, friend and IBEW lineman,” organizer Derek Schafer wrote on the site.

Johnson leaves behind a wife and five children, ranging from grade school to college age.

All of the funds raised will go toward Johnson’s wife and children to help with memorial arrangements as well as any household, medical or educational expenses.

Cliff Johnson, 44, was strapped into a basket suspended from the power line above the river when something broke, according to Benton County (Wash.) Coroner Bill Leach, according to an article in the Tri-City Herald.

The union lineman fell with the basket about 75 to 100 feet into the frigid river below, Leach was told. Co-workers freed Johnson from the basket, pulled him from the river and began CPR. Emergency crews from the Hanford area and Franklin County rushed to the site after the accident about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. Hanford Fire Department ambulance rushed Johnson to nearby Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland just before 4 p.m. and he died at 5:19 p.m., Leach told the Herald.

The Benton County Coroner’s Office will investigate the official cause of Johnson’s death. The Washington Department of Labor and Industries also is investigating the death.

Johnson was employed with International Line Builders, a contractor for the power company, Avista. A lineman with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Johnson was working on non-electrified lines spanning the river in the Hanford Reach area, according to the news article.

Avista told the Herald Wednesday that all work has stopped on the project after the fall.

The utility company has been working on rebuilding and upgrading a 13-mile, 115-kilovolt transmission line. The powerline crosses a portion of the Hanford nuclear reservation site and the Hanford Reach National Monument.

“We express our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the ILB crew member,” Dennis Vermillion, Avista president and CEO, told the newspaper.

Vermillion said the utility and its contract partners are focused on supporting Johnson’s family and those impacted by the tragic loss. A family assistance fund is being set up by the utility to help Johnson’s family.

“Together, we are providing support for the employee’s family and each other,” International Line Builders officials said in a statement. “Counseling is being made available and we are establishing a memorial fund for the employee’s family.”

The GoFundMe page for the Johnson family can be found at gofundme.com/f/cliff-johnson-memorial-family-fund.

Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at clobsinger@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.

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