Mother sues EnergyUnited after boy electrocuted

A Rowan County mother has filed a lawsuit against an electric utility company for what she claims is the wrongful death of her 6-year-old son who was electrocuted in March while climbing a tree.

Deborah Kenemore alleges in her lawsuit that EnergyUnited violated national safety standards that resulted in her son's death. EnergyUnited provides electrical power to Rowan County, according to the suit.

Nathan Kenemore came into contact with an uninsulated high-voltage power line while climbing branches of a white pine tree inside a neighbor's yard, the lawsuit alleges. Nathan had been playing with a 6-year-old girl while their mothers were nearby exercising but unaware of the high-voltage line running through the tree.

“I want to do everything I can to make sure no other child dies needlessly by electrocution,” Deborah Kenemore said in a statement released by her lawyers. “I want to make sure power companies aren't allowed to let this happen again.”

Here's what the lawsuit says happened:

The girl had told her mother and Deborah Kenemore that she and Nathan were going to pick flowers. The mothers approved as long as the children promised to stay in the yard.

A few minutes later, the girl returned and told the mothers that Nathan would not speak to her and she thought he was pretending to be asleep in the tree.

Deborah Kenemore climbed the tree and found her son lying in the branches. She thought he had fallen down from higher branches, injuring his neck, and she cradled his head in her hands.

As she held her son, he was unresponsive and his eyes were bulging and red. The mother tried to revive him by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

She remained with Nathan in the tree about 10 minutes until emergency personnel arrived and helped bring her son down.

Emergency personnel at Davis Regional Medical Center in Statesville tried to save Nathan's life.

“The pronouncement of his death transformed what had been an hour-long trauma into permanent and shocking loss,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges that EnergyUnited visited the property each month to read an electric meter near the tree but failed to trim the tree or take other protective measures, such as warning property owners.

The tree had grown 14 feet higher than the uninsulated line, and EnergyUnited had failed to follow its own schedule of pruning for at least six years, the lawsuit alleges.

The National Electric Safety Code requires electric utilities, which have a right-of-way for power lines, to clear vegetation around high-voltage lines and to insure that the lines can't be reached or touched by anyone unaware of the dangerous electrical hazard, the lawsuit says.

In a statement, EnergyUnited said it could not comment on the lawsuit, but that the company was saddened by what it called the “tragic, accidental death.”

The statement said EnergyUnited conducts safety programs in schools and responds immediately to calls about power lines that come into contact with trees.

Staff writer Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed.