The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Family of 11-year-old boy who died in unheated Texas mobile home sues power companies for over $100 million

Cristian Pavon, 11, was pronounced dead Tuesday afternoon in Texas. The boy’s family said they suspect he died of hypothermia. (KTRK)
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For more than 24 hours last week, Maria Elisa Pineda’s pastel green mobile home outside Houston had no power and heat as temperatures plunged to 9 degrees. On Tuesday, Pineda found her 11-year-old son, Cristian Pavon, dead under a pile of blankets on his own bed — a death authorities suspect was a result of hypothermia.

Now, Pineda is suing two major Texas energy providers, alleging Cristian would not have died had both companies alerted residents that the outages would last several days during the dangerous cold snap.

The lawsuit filed over the weekend, first reported by the Houston Chronicle, also accuses Entergy Texas and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT, of failing to protect the state’s independent power grid from a historic deep freeze that left millions without electricity, heat and water for days.

“The power providers, long before any of us, knew that they would not have sufficient power to protect us and they didn’t tell us that,” Pineda’s attorney, Tony Buzbee, told The Washington Post. “You have people that died because of that. It’s just not acceptable. We’re going to hold people accountable.”

He added, “The power providers lied to us in Texas.”

Millions of Texans are enduring freezing temperatures amid a large-scale failure of the state’s power grid. (Video: Lindsey Sitz, Spike Johnson/The Washington Post)

An 11-year-old boy died in an unheated Texas mobile home. Authorities suspect hypothermia.

Pineda’s lawsuit is among the first legal actions brought against the state’s energy providers as Texans wrestle with whom to hold responsible for dozens of deaths and billions in damages in last week’s catastrophic outages. Buzbee, who told The Post he is representing at least seven other Texas families who died in the dangerously cold temperatures, said he expects more litigation against energy providers.

Billions in damage across the South prompts focus on who’s to blame, and who will pay

So far, at least 58 people have died in the two major winter storms since Feb. 14, according to data compiled by The Post. More than half of the deaths — 32 — have been reported in Texas, where President Biden has since declared a major disaster. Authorities say the death count could rise as wellness checks in coming days reveal the full magnitude of the disaster.

Pineda is suing both companies for gross negligence. The Conroe, Tex., family is seeking damages, funeral expenses and a judgment of more than $100 million, according to the lawsuit.

In a statement to The Post, ERCOT said the company had yet to review the lawsuit before responding “accordingly.”

“Our thoughts are with all Texans who have and are suffering due to this past week,” an ERCOT representative told The Post. “However, because approximately 46 percent of privately-owned generation tripped offline this past Monday morning, we are confident that our grid operators made the right choice to avoid a statewide blackout.”

Entergy, which serves small portions of Houston and Harris counties, said in a statement to The Post that the company would not comment because of the pending litigation. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of life in our community,” a spokesperson said.

Cristian, who was born in Tela, Honduras, came to Texas in 2019 to reunite with his mother, whom he had not seen for over a year, Univision reported.

The family’s mobile home lost power early on Feb. 15, but the otherwise healthy boy never complained of any illness or cold, Pineda told the Chronicle. The last pictures and videos Pineda has of Cristian were taken on that day, when the boy saw snow for the first time.

After he skipped in the blanket of snow that covered his backyard for about a half-hour, Cristian played with his toys and was in bed with his 3-year-old stepbrother by 11 p.m., the Chronicle reported. At some point that night, Cristian’s stepfather woke up to check on the children, who were both still responsive, his aunt Jaliza Yera told KTRK.

But Cristian never woke up the next day. Around 2:30 p.m., his mother found the sixth-grader’s unresponsive body on his bed. Despite his family’s attempts to revive him, Cristian was pronounced dead on Tuesday afternoon.

The results of his autopsy could take several weeks, the Chronicle reported. Conroe Police Sgt. Jeff Smith told the newspaper that Cristian appeared to be a “normal” and “healthy” child.

58 people died in last week’s frigid weather. Some of them were just trying to stay warm.

All of this could have been prevented, Pineda’s lawsuit claims.

Cristian would not have been left to die in single-digit temperatures if the providers had been more honest with customers about how long the power would be out, according to the lawsuit.

“They would have been able to try to protect themselves because obviously we’re going to try to protect our children, but we weren’t given the information,” Buzbee told The Post.

The companies, the lawsuit alleges, also “put profits over the welfare of people” by disregarding recommendations to winterize power infrastructure following a 2011 severe winter storm.

Because ERCOT has the country’s first independent grid, it is not subject to federal regulation or required to equip the electric grid for the winter. Still, the lawsuit alleges, “just because it is not legally required to do so, does not mean that failing to do so is reasonable behavior. ERCOT failed all Texas, and allowed providers to fail Texans.”

Buzbee said the companies failed Texans by not disclosing the true severity of the power outages that left many like Cristian unprotected during the frigid darkness.

“We failed this child,” Buzbee told The Post. “There is no amount of money for that. There is no amount of money that equals a kid.”