The family of a 17-year-old lifeguard who was electrocuted and drowned in a Wake County pool last summer has filed a lawsuit against two electrical contractors, claiming that shoddy workmanship led to the girl’s death.
Rachel Rosoff, a senior at Enloe High School in Raleigh, was shocked and drowned Sept. 3 while working as a lifeguard at the Heritage Point subdivision pool. The water was electrified when a pump motor stopped working properly and a corroded wire prevented the flow of electricity that would have tripped the circuit breaker, according to investigators.
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In a lawsuit filed Monday in Wake County Superior Court, attorneys for the Rosoff family allege that Williams Electric Motor Repair and Future Connections Electrical did improper work at the pool and that their negligence caused the water to be electrified.
The suit also lists William Clifton Jr., a licensed electrical contractor, as a defendant. Clifton was responsible for making sure Williams Electric was adhering to proper electrical codes and to industry standards, said David Kirby, an attorney for the Rosoff family.
“It was not performed to code,” Kirby said. “It was an accident waiting to happen.”
Rachel Rosoff got into the water around 10:16 a.m. that day without realizing the pool had become electrified, the lawsuit says. Electricity paralyzed her and caused extreme pain, but did not kill her.
“Rachel was completely aware of her circumstances, she was unable to move her arms and legs, was without any ability to save herself, and she consciously drowned,” the lawsuit says.
Her body was found about four hours later by another lifeguard who arrived at work.
New pools must pass an initial county inspection, but Wake doesn’t inspect them again unless a new permit is issued, such as for major renovations.
Williams Electric did not get a permit from Wake County in 2011 when it did work at the pool, according to the lawsuit. The company replaced cables, installed a new junction box near the pool house and replaced the motor.
“We believe if an inspector had seen the work, they wouldn’t have passed it,” Kirby said.
The lawsuit also accuses Williams Electric of damaging insulation on one of the wires while installing the junction box, causing it to slowly corrode and eventually fail.
When the pool’s pump motor stopped working properly, the corroded wire prevented the flow of electricity that would have tripped the circuit breaker. So the electrical current followed a path into the pool’s water, Gregory A. Vance, an inspections administrator for Wake, wrote in an investigation report in September.
Williams Electric should have replaced the underground wires with wiring required in pools today, the lawsuit says. That includes an extra wire that could have tripped the breaker.
“And, in addition to that, they would have been required to place that wiring into a sleeve or conduit that would have prevented it from being cut or nicked if someone were digging with a shovel in that area,” Kirby said.
The suit also alleges that Future Connections installed in 2015 the wrong size capacitor, which eventually caused the motor to overheat and fail. The company had been hired when the pool’s pump motor stopped working.
Before troubleshooting the motor and replacing the capacitor, the Future Connections employee turned off a power supply, the lawsuit says.
When diagnosing the problem, Kirby said, the employee should have inspected the electrical system and its components, which would have turned up corrosion, hazards and other code violations.
The findings were never made to pool operator Aquatic Management Group or the Heritage Point homeowners association, the lawsuit says.
After Rosoff died, investigators asked Future Connections to help locate electrical lines and provide information about the pool’s systems, Kirby said.
Aquatic Management Group uses the company as its primary contractor to repair the electrical systems of pools it manages. At some point two or three years ago, it started using Future connections instead of Williams Electric, Kirby said.
Attorneys also accuse Williams Electric of failing to report safety hazards related to the electrical systems.
Williams Electric and Future Connections did not return phone calls Monday.
Last week, the state Department of Labor said Aquatic Management Group probably did not know about the faulty underground wire that caused Rosoff’s death.
The state found “potential violations” of safety standards at the pool, according to the department. But it will not issue fines to Aquatic Management Group, although the state is recommending some safety changes.
Wake County inspected the Heritage Point pool three times for health and safety in 2016 without issues, according to a county spokeswoman.
Wake regularly inspects its 1,165 pools, but the inspections do not include electrical systems or wires. Inspectors check for several safety factors, including chemical levels.