EXCLUSIVE: Parents shift focus to power line safety in wake of sons’ deaths (part 2)

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The power lines have disappeared, though the reason “why” seems to never fade.

A massive, symbolic scar stretches across the land. Nineteen months after the boys’ deaths, Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative finally buried the transmission lines underneath Lake O’ the Pines.

The lines run parallel to the Alley Creek bridge, about 15 feet below the ground. 

It’s a change the Co-Op said they were never ordered to make, but wanted to do.

“You know for the safety of East Texans and for the beauty of that lake, too. It’s a beautiful lake. We wanted to make sure it was done, and so we went ahead and did the process,” said Tony McCullough form Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative.

The boys’ parents say they are staying focused on the bigger picture, power line safety for utilities throughout Texas.

“We need something to hold these guys accountable, hold their feet to the fire, and make them report to the public how they’re performing,” said Stan Brannon, Will’s father.

On March 8th, state representative Chris Paddie of Marshall and state senator Bryan Hughes of Mineola filed identical bills in Austin, addressing power line safety.

Rep. Jay Dean of Longview has signed on to co-author Paddie’s bill.

“We all need to be held accountable, and when mistakes are made, and they cost people’s lives, we’ve got to take a look and see what we can do to prevent that from happening again,” said Hughes.

Listing their top priority, “First and foremost is to establish a standard for a reporting standpoint. We really don’t have that right now,” said Paddie.

Some of the legislation requires electric utilities to conduct annual line inspections and report those results to the state. It also requires utilities to report the number of annual fatalities and injuries caused by their power lines and other equipment.

“This bill is designed to draw the public attention and the utilities attention back to where it should be and that’s on public safety,” said Michelle Brannon, Will’s mother.

“I truly believe that had we had this in place, this situation wouldn’t have been allowed to reach the conclusion that it reached,” Mr. Brannon added.

The parents say they’re extremely thankful for their lawmakers’ support.

“We’re very pleased that somebody still cares and that hopefully change will be made,” said Mrs. Brannon.

However, as Winston Churchill once said, “In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics, many times.” 

Mr. Brannon says, they’re ready, “I know this is the first shot in a long battle, probably a subject to be a long and bitter one. We’re in it until the bitter end.”

With all legislation, bills are subject to countless amendments in the committee and both chambers of the legislature, before a version actually makes it to the governor’s desk. 

“We understand there’s a give and take about getting things through committee. Hopefully, this will come to some sort of fruition,” said Mr. Brannon.

Paddie said passing this bill into law is only a starting point.

“This will give us a base line of information, a report card if you will, to begin to judge utilities on how much emphasis they’re putting on public safety, particularly as it relates to inspecting lines,” he said.

Once that data has been reported for a few years, they can begin to compare which utilities across Texas need to do more to ensure they’re protecting the public.

“It’ll help us decide, at some point in the future, whether or not, we need to talk about additional requirements,” said Paddie.

Hughes says “preventing accidents like this” in the future is their ultimate goal. 

The bill now goes to the state affairs committees. 

“I’m hopeful we can get it through the process, So far, the response has been good,” said Paddie.

In the meantime, the parents have created a Facebook group “Demand Electric Power Line Safety in Texas.”

It’s a way to show all Texas lawmakers that families across the entire state are passionate about this issue.

The parents say it’s a grassroots effort to protect other Texas parents from ever enduring this amount of grief. They invite anyone who also wants to see change, to become a member.

Click here to join the group.

“These were boys who were going to rule the world one day! We had such high hopes for all three of them,” said Michelle Feaucheux, Heath’s mother.

Now, they have hope once again, in the wake of such heartache.

Thomas Larry’s family wasn’t able to join us for the interview, but they did release this statement to KETK:

“We first want to thank Representative Paddie and Senator Hughes for working so quickly and diligently to bring a bill before the House. The current lack of enforced regulations and safety reporting has been absolutely shocking to us. That is why this legislation is so vital; it should prevent future irresponsibility that could potentially lead to harm or even death. This MUST NEVER happen again.

We will continue to work with the Brannons, the Faucheuxs, and the lawmakers until we, the families, feel that everything that can be done to prevent tragedies like this has been done. For my family, we feel that that is what we have to do. It is how we honor these incredible young men. The legacy they will leave behind is to save lives.” – Larry Family Statement

Click here to watch part 1 of Hope after Heartache.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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