It's been only a month since it happened. Maria Isabel Duran's body has healed. Her youngest son, David Duran, 11, has gone back to school. But there's a space at the dining room table where her oldest son, Raul Hernandez, used to sit and the family walks around in a daze, still finding it hard to believe the 27-year-old is dead.
Duran has told the story so many times now, speaking in rapid-fire Spanish, but she's living it again each time she tells it. On August 31, Raul and his girlfriend and her daughter had just gotten back into town from vacation. The couple was staying in the Westchase Hilton Hotel and invited Raul's family to come over and go swimming.
They'd spent the afternoon splashing around the pool, but it was getting late and most of the families had already left. Raul was sitting on the side of the pool with his girlfriend, Duran was in the middle of the pool and David was in the deep end. Duran called to David that it was time to get out of the pool and he was moving toward the edge when the underwater lights snapped on, and his body began convulsing.
Duran was lunging through the water toward her son when the electric current began snaking through her body. She couldn't see, she couldn't move or think or feel anything but the pain. The thrum of electricity filled her ears. Her muscles and nerves were on fire. No one knew what was happening, but Raul jumped into the water, going for his baby brother first. A member of the University of Houston powerlifting team, he was strong and he made it to David. He thrust his brother toward the side of the pool, screamed for someone to get him. A bystander rushed up, grabbed hold of the boy and pulled him out. Raul and Duran were still in the pool. Somehow in the confusion, the lights were turned off and they were able to get the two out without being electrocuted themselves.
One of the bystanders was a doctor. They were able to get Duran breathing again, but Raul was unresponsive. By the time the ambulance arrived, he'd been out for nearly 20 minutes.
Days later, he died in the Intensive Care Unit. By then they knew what happened. A contractor had done work on the pool recently, according to court documents. The pool should have been fitted with mechanisms set up to automatically shut off if anything went wrong, but there weren't any.
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On Wednesday morning, Duran filed a lawsuit for wrongful death against Hilton Worldwide Inc., Interstate Hotels and Resorts LLC, WS Westchase LLC, Interstate Westchase LP, Westchase Tenant LLC, Interstate Management Co. LLC, and Brown Electric Inc. Brown Electric was responsible for recent electric work on the pool, lawyer John Thomas said.
"It's the Hilton. You don't expect to go to the Hilton and have this kind of thing happen," Duran said, swiping at the tears streaming down her face.
The family is still in shock, and wading into a lawsuit means they haven't had time to grieve, Raul's younger brother Carlos Hernandez, 22, said, but they want to make sure no other family has to go through what they're experiencing, a death that could have been so easily prevented, he said.
"The best result is this won't happen to somebody else," he said. "They knew there was something wrong, so why did they allow this to happen. They should be held responsible for putting the public in danger."