Three months after 27-year-old Raul Hernandez was electrocuted in the pool of the Westchase Hilton Hotel, the Harris County District Attorney's Office has charged two electricians who worked on the pool with criminally negligent homicide.
Assistant District Attorney Bill Exley said he began looking into the case based on Houston Police Officer K. Ferguson's report. Hernandez and his family had been spending the afternoon at the pool after Hernandez that day. Most of the people had left when Hernandez's mother, Maria Isabel Duran, called to her youngest son, David Duran, to get out of the pool.
Hernandez and his girlfriend were sitting on the edge of the pool. David was moving to the edge of the pool when the electric pool lights flicked on and he began convulsing. Duran moved through the water, trying to get to her son, but couldn't. Hernandez jumped into the water and managed to shove his baby brother to the side. He and his mother were still in the pool, electricity coursing through them, when someone turned the lights off. Hernandez never regained consciousness and died a few days later.
Jason Gorczyca and James Pyle have been charged with criminally negligent homicide, a charge that carries a penalty of six months to two years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000, for their work on the pool.
A lengthy investigation was conducted by the Houston Police Department Homicide Division, the City of Houston Public Works and Engineering Department, and the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The investigation determined the electric current was caused by a short in the pool light. The investigation also determined the wiring to the pool light lacked a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) that would have immediately cut off the current in the event of a shock. The pool also lacked proper equipotential bonding. Both are violations of the National Electric Code, according to a release.
The investigation revealed the Hilton hotel hired Brown Electric, Inc. in June 2013 to replace the wiring and bonding for the pool. Gorczyca and his supervisor, Pyle, performed the work in a substandard fashion. Additionally, Pyle did not obtain a permit for the work with the City of Houston.
Pools are required to have a ground fault circuit interrupter installed to protect people from electrocution, but this pool system did not have one. Gorczyca said he was not aware of the requirement, according to court documents. He claimed that he believed city inspectors would catch it if his work was insufficient. Pyle stated he instructed Gorczyca to install the device twice, but never checked to make sure it was actually installed, according to court documents.
Exley said they decided to pursue the case because Hernandez's death could so easily have been prevented.
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"It's as much about the things you fail to do as what you don't do," he said.
Maria Isabel Duran "and other family members" issued this statement:
As we continue to grieve Raul's loss, we are pleased that so much progress has been made to determine those responsible for his death. Although these charges will not bring Raul back, we hope the notoriety of this case will ensure a tragedy like this does not happen to another family.