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NASCAR race cars take the streets of Chicago during the The Loop 121 NASCAR Chicago Street Race in 2023. The widow of an audio engineer who was electrocuted to death during the setup of last year’s race has sued NASCAR and the Chicago Park District.

NASCAR race cars take the streets of Chicago during the The Loop 121 NASCAR Chicago Street Race in 2023. The widow of an audio engineer who was electrocuted to death during the setup of last year’s race has sued NASCAR and the Chicago Park District.

Manuel Martinez

The widow of a contractor who was electrocuted setting up street race sues NASCAR and Chicago Park District

The wrongful death lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 in damages.

The widow of an audio engineer who was electrocuted to death during the setup of last year’s NASCAR Chicago Street Race is suing NASCAR, the Chicago Park District and several contractors, alleging they failed to mitigate “unreasonably dangerous” conditions in the lead up to the street race that was held amid record rainfall.

The wrongful death lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 in damages and was filed in Cook County Circuit Court in March earlier this year. It was amended last week. The lawsuit stems from 53-year-old Tennessee audio engineer Duane Tabinski’s death in June 2023 as he worked on setup for NASCAR’s inaugural street race.

The lawsuit, filed by Tabinski’s widow, Kristin Tabinski, argues that NASCAR, the park district and four rental and production companies contracted for the event were negligent in inspecting the area “which was wet from on and off rain that had been occurring within the few days leading up to the electrocution.”

The lawsuit argues the groups failed to take safety precautions, noting a cable connected to an equipment box was damaged, conductors were exposed and a ground pin was missing, and failed to take other precautions like adequately outfitting power sources with a ground fault circuit interrupter, a device that protects against severe electric shocks.

The Chicago Park District, which shared in the profits from the race weekend, including a $500,000 permit fee and a cut of the event’s ticket and concessions sales, engaged in conduct that the district “knew created an unreasonable risk of danger, harm, and injury and that showed a conscious disregard for, or utter indifference to, the safety of,” Tabinski and others, the lawsuit argues.

Tabinski’s attorney, Kevin Durkin, a partner at Clifford Law, said aside from an OSHA investigation which was closed with no citations, it doesn’t appear there’s been a thorough investigation into the incident.

“There’s been no definitive investigation done,” Durkin said. “My client came into contact with a high energy wire that was uninsulated and unprotected. And we know that the only thing he would deal with as a sound guy was low voltage wire. So somewhere along the line, whoever was in charge allowed this condition to happen… This is a NASCAR event and they’re in charge, ultimately. The buck stops there.”

An attorney for NASCAR and spokeswoman for the Chicago Park District declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

The four equipment and production companies also sued are United Rentals, Four Leaf Productions, Malko Communication Services and Tyler Scenic. None responded to requests for comment by Friday afternoon.

In court filings responding to the allegations, Malko Communications, United Rentals, which supplied HVAC equipment and generators for the event, and Tyler Scenic, which owned an equipment box that included an extension cord, urged for the case to be dismissed. They argue they had no control over the conditions that led to Tabinski’s death and that Tabinski was the one who “negligently and carelessly failed to exercise reasonable care for his own safety,” the response by United Rentals reads.

NASCAR’s second annual street race centered around Grant Park kicks off Saturday, and the forecast once again signals possible rainy conditions Sunday. Last year, races were delayed by the downpour, with a record 3.35 inches of rain falling that Sunday.

According to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Tabinski was electrocuted while installing audio visual equipment and had been “running a line audio cable through scaffolding to a distribution box.” The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office ruled Tabinski’s death an accident after contact with electrical wires, according to medical examiner records.

OSHA closed its investigation of Tabinski’s death in November and proposed no citations. The investigation was into Tabinski’s company, and the Department of Labor said it generally declines to cite a company when the owner is the person who died or was self-employed.

Tabinski, who had a love of music according to an obituary, died “doing what he loved on a show in Chicago.”

“His biggest career accomplishment to date was being contracted by Nascar for his invention known as TracPac,” the obituary reads. “We are happy to say he was able to witness the debut of his creation and the joy it brought.”

Tessa Weinberg covers Chicago government and politics for WBEZ.

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