The Lake of the Ozarks is a summer getaway for many Missouri families. While the fun and sun are what first come to mind, the reality of danger became evident last summer after three tragic deaths.
Among them were two children, Alexandra and Brayden Anderson of Ashland.
The siblings were swimming together next to their family's dock when they were shocked by an electric current and drowned.
It happened again a few days later, killing Jennifer Lankford, 26, of Hazelwood. She was swimming at a different dock when she was shocked and drowned.
It’s something ABC 17 News found out could happen at thousands of docks at the Lake. Now, with Memorial Day just weeks away and the summer season ready to begin, ABC 17’s Hanna Mordoh set out to learn if the Lake of the Ozarks is a safer place than it was last summer. She looked into the current regulations and sat down with the Anderson family.
Since last year’s electrical accidents, no regulations to docks have been changed. That means about 90 percent of the docks on the Lake of the Ozarks are still not inspected and never have to be.
Of the docks that do get inspected, around 75 percent do not pass.
The reason is because most docks were grandfathered in when Ameren Missouri – the company which owns the lakefront – changed the codes back in 2006.
While awareness about the dangers has increased and more docks have been inspected, there is still a long way to go.
“They were doing something that they enjoyed doing, that they loved doing, that they had done hundreds of times before,” said Alexandra and Brayden’s mother, Angela Anderson. “There was a loud scream and they were gone.”
It’s a sudden and unimaginable sadness that no parent should ever have to face. The Andersons went to the Lake to celebrate the Fourth of July, just as they had done many times before.
“We have had the house since February of 97,” said Anderson. “The kids grew up there in the summer time pretty much.”
The children woke up that morning and wanted to swim, so Angela and her husband, Brian, helped them put on their life vests and sunscreen. But what started as a normal day ended as a nightmare.
“We pulled them out of the water and I was doing CPR on Brayden and Brian was doing it on Alexandra and we had some neighbors helping us,” Anderson recalled.
While everyone did what they could, it was simply too late.
“Before our eyes, Brian and I watched Alexandra and Brayden die, as we and others desperately tried to save them,” said Anderson.
Electricity somehow went into the water near the dock, but the reason why is still unknown. Although the dock had ground fault interrupters on the outlets and was up to the old code regulations, it was missing a ground fault interrupter at the front of the dock.
“We learned what happened to them has become known across the United States as electric shock drowning,” said Anderson.
The next day, Ameren Missouri put a message on the Anderson’s dock stating they needed to bring it up to a new code. It was a code the family didn’t even know they were supposed to be following.
“We have had a program in place since 2006 and a partnership with the fire districts where they enforce electrical codes on all new docks and modifications,” said Ameren Missouri shoreline supervisor Jeff Green.
However, docks built before 2006 do not have to be inspected but are still required to be safe.
“There's no such thing as a grandfathered, electrically unsafe dock,” said Green. “That dock owner is responsible for maintaining that dock even if it is prior to the new codes and electrical standards.”
But did Ameren make it clear to old dock owners what should be done?
The Andersons said they did not know about it, but Ameren said they were “very public” about changes to dock policy and they communicated it universally.
The new regulations set by Ameren said all docks should be up to the national electric code. There are 25 requirements on an inspection sheet for a dock to pass.
Most importantly is the ground fault interrupter, or GFI, at the front of the dock. After that, a ground rod is critical so electricity does not flow into the water.
That is something dock owners say could happen at most lake homes.