Texas Utility Blamed for Electrocution in Floodwaters

HOUSTON (CN) – Hurricane Harvey cost many Houstonians their homes after days of pouring rain flooded the city, but for one family, infrastructure failures during the storm cost them their son.

Rescue boats fill a flooded street as flood victims are evacuated as floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey rise Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

JoDell and Albin Pasek filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Harris County District Court accusing CenterPoint Energy, TE Connectivity, Antwine Electric and two homeowners of causing their son Andrew Pasek’s death when he was electrocuted by faulty wiring in the homeowners’ yard.

The Paseks, including 25-year-old Andrew, lived in a northwest Houston suburb when Hurricane Harvey hit last summer. As the floodwaters continued to engulf Houston on Aug. 29, Andrew’s sister, Alyssa Pasek, noticed that they had left her cat behind during their hurried evacuation, so Andrew set out to rescue it, according to the complaint and local news reports.

Andrew found his sister’s cat in Dennis and Melanie Dossey’s yard, but he was unable to see that the floodwaters in the immediate area had been electrified by an outdoor light fixture with faulty wiring, according to the lawsuit filed by lead attorney Muhammad Aziz with the Houston firm Abraham Watkins.

Andrew stumbled in the flooded yard, so he grabbed the Dosseys’ landscape light to stabilize himself. The floodwaters, in combination with the malfunctioning light post, completed an electrical circuit and sent current through Andrew’s body, according to his family.

A report from local NBC affiliate KPRC says that Andrew told his friend to stay back when he felt the current in his leg.

“I’m dying. Go away. Don’t help me,” he reportedly said.

A combination of errors contributed to Andrew’s death, including a faulty electrical installation, defective equipment, and poor emergency planning, the Paseks claim.

“Despite its knowledge of the flooding and its duty to shut off power to the relevant area, CenterPoint Energy, Inc. failed to shut off the power,” the lawsuit states. “CenterPoint Energy, Inc. failed to issue reasonable instructions to its employees covering procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency, as required by the Texas Public Utility Code.”

Alicia Dixon, a spokeswoman for CenterPoint, declined to comment on the lawsuit in an email Wednesday.

“Our condolences go out to Mr. Pasek’s family. Due to pending litigation, however, we are not at liberty to comment on the incident or lawsuit,” Dixon said.

Andrew’s sister, Alyssa, highlighted the importance of utility emergency management during severe weather events in a press conference Wednesday.

“From someone who’s lived through this, I want to stress that there has to be a crisis protocol in place to protect [Houston’s] citizens,” she said. “All of this could have been avoided if utility companies such as CenterPoint had taken steps prior to flooding to turn off electricity.”

The light fixture itself was installed by defendant Eddie Antwine, owner of Antwine Electric, according to the complaint.

“The electrical equipment and/or wiring were not properly installed, contributing to the cause of Pasek’s electrocution,” the complaint states.

Antwine declined to comment on the lawsuit directly, but he agreed to forward contact information to his attorney. Courthouse News has not yet received a response from the attorney.

The Paseks also claim the light fixture was equipped with a defective sensor that was manufactured by defendant TE Connectivity Corporation, which contributed to the electrified pool in the Dosseys’ yard. TE Connectivity could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit.

Though the complaint stated that the “Dosseys had not secured their property” during the hurricane, Andrew’s mother JoDell indicated that the homeowners were unlikely to have remembered to shut off their home’s breaker box.

“CenterPoint Energy had not turned off the electricity in the subdivision, and people rarely think about turning off their main breaker to their house in those circumstances,” JoDell said during the press conference.

“My son just happened to walk in the wrong place,” she added. “It could have been anyone that day.”

The Paseks sued the Dosseys, TE Connectivity, CenterPoint and Antwine Electric for wrongful death, product liability, warranty and gross negligence on behalf of their son’s estate.

Due to the potential for such errors to happen again during future storms, the Paseks’ attorney, Aziz, and his law firm asserted the importance of holding utility companies accountable.

“One of the purposes of the lawsuit is to affect changes in the manner CenterPoint Energy manages its electricity grid during foreseeable natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods,” according to a press release the firm issued Wednesday.

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