Lifeguard’s family electrocuted and drowned to file complaint against two electrical contractors

The family of a 17-year-old lifeguard who was electrocuted and drowned in a Wake County swimming pool last summer filed a lawsuit against two electrical contractors, saying poor quality work resulted in the death of the young lady.

Rachel Rosoff, a student at Enloe High School in Raleigh, was shocked and drowned on September 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 passage of electricity that would have tripped the circuit breaker, investigators said.

In a lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court on Monday, lawyers for the Rosoff family allege that Williams Electric Motor Repair and Future Connections Electrical performed improper work on the pool and that their negligence resulted in the electrification of the water.

The lawsuit also lists William Clifton Jr., a licensed electrical contractor, as the defendant. Clifton was responsible for ensuring that Williams Electric followed the proper electrical codes and industry standards, said David Kirby, lawyer for the Rosoff family.

“It was not done to code,” Kirby said. “It was an accident waiting to happen.”

Rachel Rosoff entered the water around 10:16 a.m. that day without realizing the pool had become electrified, according to the lawsuit. The electricity paralyzed her and caused extreme pain, but did not kill her.

“Rachel was fully aware of her situation, she was unable to move her arms and legs, had no ability to save herself and she consciously drowned,” says the trial.

Her body was found about four hours later by another rescuer who arrived at work.

New pools must pass an initial county inspection, but Wake no longer inspects them unless a new permit is issued, such as with major renovations.

Williams Electric did not get a license from Wake County in 2011 while working at the pool, according to the lawsuit. The company replaced the cables, installed a new junction box near the pool house and replaced the motor.

“We think if an inspector had seen the job, he wouldn’t have passed it,” Kirby said.

The lawsuit also accuses Williams Electric of damaging the insulation on one of the wires during the installation of the junction box, causing it to slowly corrode and ultimately fail.

When the pool pump motor stopped working properly, the corroded wire prevented the flow of electricity that would have tripped the circuit breaker. So the electric current followed a path through the pool water, wrote Gregory A. Vance, an inspections administrator for Wake, in a September investigation report.

Williams Electric should have replaced the underground wires with the wiring required in swimming pools today, according to the lawsuit. This includes an extra wire that could have tripped the circuit breaker.

“And, on top of that, they would have been forced to put this wiring in a sleeve or conduit that would have kept it from being cut or nicked if someone dug with a shovel in that area,” Kirby said.

The lawsuit also alleges that Future Connections installed the wrong size capacitor in 2015, which ultimately caused the motor to overheat and fail. The company had been hired when the pool pump motor stopped working.

Before troubleshooting the motor and replacing the capacitor, the Future Connections employee cut off the power, according to the lawsuit.

When diagnosing the problem, Kirby said, the employee should have inspected the electrical system and its components, which would have revealed corrosion, hazards and other code violations.

The findings were never passed on to the pool operator Aquatic Management Group or the Heritage Point owners association, according to the lawsuit.

After Rosoff’s death, investigators asked Future Connections to help them locate power lines and provide information on the pool’s systems, Kirby said.

Aquatic Management Group uses the company as a prime contractor to repair the electrical systems of the swimming pools it manages. Two or three years ago it started using Future connections instead of Williams Electric, Kirby said.

Lawyers also accuse Williams Electric of failing to report safety risks to electrical systems.

Williams Electric and Future Connections did not answer phone calls on Monday.

Last week, the State Department of Labor said the Aquatic Management Group was likely unaware of the faulty underground wire that caused Rosoff’s death.

The state has found “potential violations” of safety standards at the pool, according to the department. But it won’t impose fines on Aquatic Management Group, although the state recommends some safety changes.

Wake County inspected the Heritage Point pool three times for health and safety concerns in 2016 without issue, according to a county spokesperson.

Wake regularly inspects its 1,165 pools, but the inspections do not include electrical systems or wires. Inspectors check several safety factors, including chemical levels.

This story was originally published April 10, 2017 1:45 p.m.

Patricia D. Rutt