Durham, N.C.—A family that lost five members in a tubing accident on a North Carolina river is suing Duke Energy, saying the utility failed to adequately warn people that its dam poses life-threatening risks.
Their lawsuit, filed in Durham County in August, specifically names Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC.
“Despite knowing of the danger posed by the dam, Duke Energy failed to use barricades, barriers, buoys and other safety devices to prevent boaters from going over the submerged dam and being caught in the recirculating currents,” the lawsuit says.
Duke Energy spokesman Dave Scanzoni said in a statement Friday that the utility would respond in detail in court.
Nine relatives from Eden, North Carolina, and LaPorte, Indiana, were floating down the Dan River in inflatable tubes on June 16 when they went over the 8-foot dam. The survivors were spotted the day after the accident by a Duke Energy employee, who called 911.
Emergency crews rescued Ruben Villano, 35, and his children Irene, 18; and Eric, 14, along with his nephew Karlos Villano, 14, according to the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office. All four were treated at a local hospital for their injuries. Irene Villano said at a news conference on Thursday that she used a finger and a foot to hang onto spaces in the dam and her family members hung onto her.
On the same day, rescuers found the bodies of Ruben Villano’s partner Bridish Crawford, 27; and Antonio Roman, 30, along with Sophie Wilson, 14, the sheriff’s office said. The body of Bridish Crawford’s son Isiah, 7, was found days later. Searchers found the body of Teresa Villano, 35, on July 5. News outlets reported Teresa Villano was pregnant when she drowned.
“It’s kind of miserable to even be here,” survivor Irene Villano told reporters at a news conference on Thursday. “You’re with these people all the time, and you’re always around them and then, they’re just not here anymore. Sometimes, you can’t even explain the feeling. It’s been awful.”
Indiana-based attorney Kenneth Allen said the family wouldn’t have gone tubing had they known they would come upon the dam.
“We need the owners of these dams to either eliminate them, fix them or, at the very least, protect recreational users from the deadly hazards they pose,” Allen said at the news conference.