Brothers electrocuted by downed power line suffered 'painful and agonizing death,' lawsuit alleges https://t.co/PSehvcXNxH
— Dallas Morning News (@dallasnews) July 28, 2017
Almost every day, Isaiah and Alex Lopez would explore the hilly, wooded park near their Fort Worth home, Oakland Lake Park.
With its trails, lake and thick vegetation, the park is a popular and relaxing spot among local families and children for walking, picnicking and playing.
So on a Wednesday evening in March after school, the two brothers, Isaiah and Alex, ages 11 and 12 respectively, strolled through the park with their friends. A strong storm had hit the Fort Worth area the night before, on March 28, so there were puddles in some parts.
Then, in a remote area with overgrown brush, Alex came across a high voltage power line that was lying on the ground. Family members later said he stepped in a puddle that was electrified by the downed power lines.
An electrical shock tore through the 12-year-old’s body, burning and blistering his skin, according to court documents. Isaiah, witnessing the electrocution, told his friends to run and get help. Meanwhile, he reached down to try to help his older brother.
“I’m going to save Alex,” Isaiah said, according to court documents.
As he grabbed his brother, Isaiah, too, was shocked and burned. His bone and tissue were charred, his finger and right arm amputated and his ribs and vertebrae fractured.
Both were pronounced dead about two hours later.
This week, lawyers on behalf of the boy’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the electric company, Oncor, saying it could have prevented the fatal electrocution, “a painful and agonizing death.”
The lawsuit states Oncor, the largest provider of electricity in Texas, knew or should have known about the downed power line via technology that supposedly monitors changes or fluctuations in its electric grid. It says the company failed to cut the power from the downed line fast enough or warn the public about it.
“This failure resulted in the needless deaths of two inseparable brothers,” Jeffrey Rasansky, a lawyer for the family, told The Washington Post. He said the power line is believed to have been down for as long as 15 to 18 hours.
“The area where the downed line ran through the Oakland Lake Park was heavily wooded and/or overgrown and concealed the hazardous defect from the children until Alex and Isaiah had already been electrocuted by it,” the lawsuit states, adding that the company should have noticed this overgrown vegetation and realized the risk it presented to the public.
The lawsuit seeks up to $40 million in damages.
The storm the night before the boys’ death left dozens of power lines down and up to 200,000 people in the area without power.
In a statement to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, an Oncor spokesman said the energy delivery company relies on consumers and first responders to report downed power lines. He said the “technology” that the lawsuit claims the company uses to identify downed lines “does not exist.”
During significant storms, Oncor first restores power to emergency responders, then to places such as hospitals, and then to areas “that will most quickly restore power to the greatest number of customers at once,” the Star-Telegram reported.
“We have dozens, sometimes hundreds of crews working after big storms and a lot of this is being done simultaneously,” the Oncor spokesman, Geoff Bailey, told the Star-Telegram.
Richard Zavala, Fort Worth’s parks and recreation director, told the Star-Telegram that Oakland Lake Park was a “high-priority” area for looking for downed power lines after the storms on March 28. But because the power lines that shocked the Lopez brothers were in a “very remote” area with low traffic, city workers did not find them.
The lawsuit states that first responders arrived at the park at about 6:15 p.m., minutes after the boys were electrocuted. But the energized power lines had ignited a grass fire, and the first responders could not reach the brothers.
It took about an hour for Oncor to arrive and cut the power to the lines. It was only then that responders could reach the boys and check the extent of their injuries.
“Every minute counts so to the extent the family was there and had to wait and wonder what had happened to their children, it’s just unimaginable,” Rasansky said.
“We need to send a message to Oncor that they have a duty and responsibility to make sure the public is safe around their equipment.
Lt. Kyle Falkner, Fire Department spokesman, told the Star-Telegram that firefighters could see the boys, but because of the hazard still at the scene, “the crews had to make the difficult decision at that point that they had to prevent any further injury and not allow anyone into the area until those lines could be de-energized.”
Rasansky said this was not a case of children jumping over a fence or putting themselves in dangerous situations.
“This is a case of boys being boys, playing in a park where they are supposed to be free from danger doing what every little kids do,” Rasansky said.
Speaking to local press and television stations, family members described the brothers as close, occasionally mischievous boys.
“They had really good hearts,” Angela Jenkins, a former stepmother of the boys, told the Star-Telegram. Isaiah was in fourth grade and Alex in fifth at a local charter school. They lived with their grandparents, and their parents were not married.
“Alex was usually the protector,” Jenkins told the newspaper. “And this time it was Isaiah.”
Following their deaths, friends and relatives gathered at Oakland Lake Park for a vigil, displaying pictures of the boys on a table beside flowers, stuffed bears, a basketball and a baseball.
Loved ones held candles as they walked over to the site where the brothers were electrocuted. Colorful balloons were juxtaposed with yellow crime tape.
In the days that followed, the grandfather of the boys, Jose Lopez, has looked out in front of his house, longing to see his grandchildren playing on the lawn, he told local television station WFAA. Now all he sees is a wooden cross, honoring the brothers.
“It keeps reminding me that they are gone,” Lopez said.