Neighbors react to Lake of the Ozarks electrocutions

Sunday, July 8, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:32 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 28, 2012
Neighbors in the Golden Beach community on the Lake of the Ozarks have reacted to a July 4 accident by trying to improve the wiring of docks and increasing swimming and electrical safety. Two children died from an electrical shock while swimming in the lake.

LAKE OF THE OZARKS — At first, the shouting sounded like boisterous child's play.

Melinda White and her husband were at their lake house for the Fourth of July. They live on the Gravois Arm of the lake in a small community known as Golden Beach.

White was relaxing with her husband on their deck around noon on Wednesday. It was hot, and they'd heard the neighbor kids playing in the water down by the docks all morning.

"They really got to hollering loud," White said.

And that's when her husband said to her, "That's not a friendly scream."

"Then somebody hollered 911," White said.

When White, a former emergency room nurse, and her husband heard that shout, her husband took off toward the neighbors' house. White ran to get her shoes.

"When I rounded that last corner down there, what I saw was not what I expected," White recalled. She expected a child with a gashed head. Possibly some sort of fracture.

What she saw has left a vivid and upsetting memory. She doesn't want to talk about it.

She also wants to protect the privacy of the family of the two children whose cries she heard: Alexandra Anderson, 13, and her little brother Brayden, 8. The brother and sister, the children of Angela and Brian Anderson of Ashland, died from an electrical shock in the lake.

White was one of four people who gave CPR to the children before first responders — volunteers from the Moreau Fire Protection District — arrived 15 minutes after the initial 911 call. Adults worked in teams of two, giving CPR until the paramedics took over.

Now White is one of the people trying to make sure the docks are safe.

Ungrounded dock wiring was cited as the cause of the accident, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Marine Operations Division.

Although the accident is still under investigation, the exact source of the electricity might never be determined. Now the accident has lake dwellers flooding electricians with requests for inspections and improvements to their dock wiring. 

The accident has not stopped White and her family from swimming in the lake. But she says it has made them all more aware of water safety. 

"Immediately, that afternoon, all these people up and down through here were calling electricians," she said. "They were calling dock people to come in and check the safety of those docks."

For now, when any of her grandchildren go swimming, all electricity to the water must be completely shut off — even though the dock is brand new. They have also worked on educating their grandchildren on electrical and water safety.

Neighbors Sandy and Dennis Bailey, who live between the Andersons and the Whites, have had electricians come out to look at their dock three times since the incident.

The dock meets all recommended safety precautions from the electrical company. But there is no standard code in Morgan County that electricians must meet in installing dock wiring.

Just for their peace of mind, however, the couple is putting in more than $500 in upgrades to their dock.

“We’re just going to have a new box put on. We have a (ground fault interrupter) right now," Sandy Bailey said. But now they'll be putting in an emergency breaker handle. This will let them instantly shut off all power near the waterfront. 

“Dennis also wants more grounding done with the ladder and stuff,” she said.

The Baileys were in the St. Louis area when the incident occurred. But when Sandy Bailey saw a link to the news story on Facebook, she realized that it had happened right near their lake house.

They decided to drive down right away.

“First of all we called our person who built that dock ... seven years ago,” Sandy Bailey said. “He got back to us and he assured us everything was grounded, I mean up to those times. But right now there is a different code."

That's why the Baileys decided to upgrade as soon as the busy electricians who work in the lake area could squeeze them in. 

Dan Strickland, a certified master electrician in Eldon, said he has had double the number of calls since the the Anderson children were electrocuted. Most of them were for inspections and whatever repairs or improvements are needed to make sure the dock wiring is safe.

He said he was offering free inspections to anyone who wanted one. 

"I don't care who repairs it; I will identify it for you," he said. "I don't want this to happen again." 

Strickland said he believes strongly that Ameren, which owns the lake, needs to take an active role in creating mandatory regulations for all the docks on the lake. He stressed that the most important thing homeowners need to do is to make sure they have ground fault protection to their docks. 

Jake Judd, an electrician with Judd Electric LLC, said he'd also been busy and is booked for the next several weeks. 

"People are being proactive to see if their dock is safe and what they need to do to fix it," he said. 

Judd said that many of the older docks are grandfathered in through Ameren and that because of this their wiring is not necessarily up to standard. But no matter how old the dock is, it is important to get it wired up to current regulations, he said.

Like Strickland, Judd said that grounding and having a way of instantly shutting off power to the dock are the two most important aspects of dock safety. They are equally important and should be looked at by a certified electrician, he said. 

"We know there’s no codes here, so that’s why a lot of these houses are just awful," Sandy Bailey said. "Awful, awful, awful."

The Baileys have had their house for 13 years, and like others who have lake houses, they said deteriorating electrical work is common at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Another neighbor, Sandra Matejka, lives a few houses down from the Andersons in a house that has been in their family since 1959. She said it's common for things on the lake to go unmaintained as they age.

"It is dangerous dealing with water and electricity at the same time," Matejka said. 

"Most of these houses were built in the '60s and '70s," said Jeremy Robinson, who lives near the Andersons but doesn't know the family. "Most of this technology wasn’t around when these docks were built."

Robinson, an electronics engineer from Olathe, Kan., said all of the wiring in his house has been retrofitted to keep up with most current safety standards.

"You can’t get away from it: Most everyone on the lake has docks, and every dock has power. Docks have lights on them to keep the shoreline visible to boats at night," he said. "Any place with proximity to water, it is important to have a ground fault circuit interrupter."

Robinson said he thinks there have been deaths in the lake wrongly attributed to drowning that have actually been electrocutions. 

“If anything good can come out of this, maybe people can start being more vigilant,” Robinson said. “We just want to make sure everyone stays safe.”

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