​In Honor of Alexandra and Brayden Anderson

Alexandra Maybri Anderson  -  October 6, 1998 - July 4, 2012                                                             Brayden Mayo Anderson   -   June 15, 2004  -  July 4, 2012

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Kansas City Star, The (MO)
as provided by The McClatchy Company 
September 2, 2007Dock safety is a concern at Lake of the Ozarks 
Author: KEVIN HOFFMANN, The Kansas City StarEdition: 2
Section: FRONT
Page: A1
Article Text:Charles Huff heard the screams, raced to the family's dock on the Lake of the Ozarks and found his 24-year-old daughter unconscious in the water.She was clutching the dock's ladder.He helped pull her out, but she never regained consciousness. Heather Huff died as her parents and best friend helplessly watched.Final autopsy results are not in, but her July 28 death was probably the result of electrocution caused by a fault in the electrical circuit that supplied power to the dock.Such deaths are rare -- about half a dozen people are believed to have died in similar incidents on the lake over the past decade -- but authorities warn that the potential for similar tragedies is great on a lake with an estimated 22,000 docks. Despite recent beefed-up inspection efforts, authorities acknowledged that they had no way of knowing how many of those docks lack crucial protection.The best estimate, according to fire marshals, commercial electricians and others familiar with the lake, is that more than half of those docks are in some way deficient. In some cases, the deficiencies involve decades-! old wiring rigged by people with no electrical training."It's just something that's been done for so long, and the fact that we haven't had more (deaths) is probably just luck," said Lt. Nick Humphrey of the Missouri Water Patrol.The use of substandard materials and the unrelenting forces of time and weather on outdoor power systems have compounded the threat, authorities said. And the danger is not limited to the Lake of the Ozarks: Thousands of other docks, on large farm ponds, suburban lakes and the state's other large reservoirs, also could pose risks because most are not subject to inspections or permit processes.Jim Shafer, a marine consultant from Florida, has researched waterway fatalities extensively since 2000 and found reports on scores of such deaths across the nation. He suspects that many more have been improperly categorized as drownings.Shafer, though, said authorities in only a handful of areas had begun addressing the problem. N! ow, armed with a grant from the U.S. Coast Guard, he is workin! g to boo st those efforts.Any increased attention is a good thing, said Ron Yoder, owner of Southwest Missouri Forensics, a private agency that has performed autopsies on electrocution victims from lakes in a 31-county area."There's just about nothing more dangerous than running electricity onto a body of water," he said.Eleven days after Heather Huff's death, the Missouri Water Patrol issued a warning to dock owners to check for potential electric shock hazards.Now, with the busy Labor Day weekend, authorities again are reminding dock owners of the threat. This, they said, is an ideal time to assess dockside power supplies as owners contemplate preparations for the coming winter.Searching for answersIn September 2004, Tyler Deeds of Olathe was helping relatives and a friend remodel a lake house on the 62-mile marker of Lake of the Ozarks. Afterward, the group went into the lake to clean off.Deeds, 22, was walking toward the shore when! his foot touched a dock cable. An electrical jolt knocked him facedown into the water. The others struggled to pull him free of the cable, and emergency personnel performed CPR, but Deeds died.About the same time, leaders from area fire districts and officials from Ameren, the utility company that operates Bagnell Dam, began discussions on dock safety. They decided to require electrical inspections for all new or reconfigured docks or those moved to new locations.In January 2006, the new inspection program began, mostly in areas served by the Osage Beach, Mid-County, Sunrise Beach and Lake Ozark fire protection districts."The first year was definitely a learning process," said Chris Bachman, fire marshal for the Mid-County Fire Protection District in Camdenton. "We had a lot of docks fail."With greater awareness of the new requirements, more docks are passing on first inspection. Fire district and Ameren officials follow up on those that don't m! eet the standard, and fire districts have the authority to imp! ound uns afe docks.Increased demandLake of the Ozarks is among the world's largest reservoirs, with 1,150 miles of shoreline. Booming development over the past two decades has caused shoreline permits, including dock applications, to jump from 900 a year in 1990 to more than 3,000 annually now.More developments brought more visitors. Many of them brought bigger boats.That extra use has put more stress on many boat docks, along with the electrical systems that power overhead lights, boat lifts and, on some of the larger docks, televisions, stereos, refrigerators -- even hot tubs.Ed Nicholson, fire marshal of the Osage Beach Fire Protection District, gave one basic scenario of how an electrical short circuit on a dock can become deadly.Over time, he said, wiring rubs against the dock's steel frame. The protective coating wears off and the wiring inside contacts either the steel frame or the water. A short develops in the circuit."Water i! s a conductor," he said. "Anytime you have electricity go into the water, it searches for a ground." Until it finds one, nearby metal items such as a steel dock ladder or boat hoist also become electrically charged.A human body entering the area becomes that ground.Nicholson said a charge from a typical private boat dock at the lake may spread out about 10 feet from the dock while searching for a ground. Until the problem is found, or the circuit is broken, that potentially fatal charge will remain.Lurking dangerSince she was a young girl, Heather Huff had loved hopping into the car and driving from her home in Raymore to the Lake of the Ozarks. She especially liked it when a friend tagged along.By the time Huff had graduated from college and began work as a child advocate for a Kansas social service agency, she felt right at home in the emerald water around the 81-mile marker.So everything seemed normal when Huff, her best friend, ! her mother and a niece spent the last Saturday of July swimmin! g off th e family's dock.Charles Huff said he was up near the cabin when he heard frantic screaming."I ran as fast as I could," he said.He helped pull Heather onto the dock and hurriedly began CPR while Heather's mother called 911. Emergency personnel were unable to revive her.Since that day, Charles Huff has heard the Missouri Water Patrol report that he was racing to shut off power when Heather touched the ladder, and that the women had said the ladder had been shocking them. Not true, he said."They were going up and down that ladder all day and it never shocked them," he said."It was the only way out of the water."Looking back afterward, those swimming around the dock recalled having felt a tingling sensation in the water."They felt it, but couldn't really even describe it," he said. "It wasn't enough to get them alarmed about it."Huff said he has not returned to the lake home since Heather's death and remains puzzled ! over how the short circuit occurred. When he arrived that weekend, he noticed the outside lights were off. They ran on timers and should have been on. A breaker had tripped, which would have cut power to the dock as well."I don't know how it happened," Huff said.Copyright (c) 2007 The Kansas City Star