Texas officials are investigating the death of a man who saved his brother and mother from a Houston swimming pool that allegedly had undergone shoddy electrical work.
Raul Hernandez was celebrating his 27th birthday at the Houston Hilton Westchase on Aug. 31. His 10-year-old brother was in the pool when its automatic light switched on at dusk. The boy felt he was being shocked and his mother, Isabel Duran, jumped in to help, but also was debilitated. Hernandez swam to the pool’s deep end to rescue them, but was unable to pull himself out of the water. Bystanders retrieved him from the pool and performed CPR. He was transported to a hospital and pronounced dead several days later.
Duran and Hernandez’s brother have since recovered.
The accident occurred because the pool, which had been rewired, did not have a GFCI, or ground fault circuit interrupter, according to Earl Jones, owner of Texas Pool School in Houston. Jones is familiar with the family because Duran works for a client of his.
The electrical contractor responsible for the job was licensed; however, it’s unclear who actually performed the work on the contractor’s behalf, Jones said, adding that it may have been an apprentice or a journeyman. In either case, the work was not reviewed by a superior, as required under the state-enforced National Electric Code, he explained.
Perhaps electricians shouldn’t have been hired to rewire the pool in the first place, Jones said. He believes the task would have been better handled by a pool professional with a Residential Appliance Installer license. The state-issued license allows pool service technicians to perform pool-related electrical work without passing the state’s electrical contractor exam. “We understand laws concerning pool lights and we’re current with pool regulations,” he said.
Tragedies such as these occasionally prompt efforts to impose more regulatory oversight, but the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulation doesn’t foresee any code changes in response to this incident. “This accident is currently covered by the code, and I don’t know that there need to be any amendments,” Executive Director William Kuntz said. “What needs to happen is, people need to follow the code so that accidents don’t happen.”
Houston Hilton Westchase has a history of pool facility violations beyond electrical issues. Health department records show that the hotel was operating the pool without a permit last year. It also was not complying with the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Act requiring pools to be equipped with anti-entrapment systems. The pool also had inadequate fencing, door and gate.