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Table Saw Slashes Shop Student’s Thumb State Probing Accident At Liberty High; New Saw Guards Purchased

A shop classroom at Liberty High School is being investigated by the state Department of Labor and Industries after a 15-year-old girl sliced her thumb on a saw.

Ariel Fitzpatrick was cutting wood for a birdhouse when she slashed her thumb on a circular table saw, which had no safety guard in place, according to Liberty School District’s safety coordinator.

Fitzpatrick, who played the piano, says she no longer can play because part of her thumb is numb.

“All because they didn’t put a $20 part on a saw,” says Ariel’s father, Angel Fitzpatrick of Fairfield. “It’s stupid.”

The shop is now off limits to students. New saw guards have been purchased, and other safety measures are being put in place, said Superintendent Skip Berquam.

But Berquam says a blade guard was in place the morning of the Dec. 18 accident.

Two accident reports give different versions of what happened. Both reports were turned in by Michael Collins, the district’s safety coordinator.

Collins said his initial report called the accident “blatant negligence” on the part of school officials.

“… This shop has a long history of being out of compliance with regards to safety,” according to that report.

Collins said he turned in the second report because Berquam insisted he show the school in a “favorable” light. That report says Ariel Fitzpatrick was responsible for the accident.

Collins said guilt prompted him to come forward and acknowledge his original report. “I did a complete flip-flop, even within a day, knowing this was wrong.”

Berquam said he didn’t see either report for several days after the accident and didn’t tell Collins to write a “favorable” report.

“This case is apparently headed for litigation, and I can’t talk about the particulars,” said Berquam.

Collins has since been placed on administrative leave, said high school Principal Skip Boosinger. Collins, who blamed the leave on his whistleblowing, said school officials told him he’ll eventually be fired.

Boosinger said the school is trying to comply with problems uncovered by the state investigation, which is continuing.

Those problems include grounding plugs that needed to be replaced, improper storage of oxygen, and missing guards or ones that could be removed by students, he said.

“The old saw guard was not up to their standards, but we knew that going in,” Boosinger said. “We already had a guard ordered for that.”

Labor and Industries workers refused to comment until their investigation is complete.

Ariel, a freshman, said she’d never seen any guard on the saw. She said she was trying to dislodge a small piece of wood from the blade when she was cut.

“I looked at my friend’s face. His eyes got as big as saucers. I knew I was hurt, but I didn’t know how bad,” said Ariel, who received stitches at Deaconess Medical Center.

She since has transferred to a home economics class.

, DataTimes

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