An electrified pipe at an aging pump house is suspected of causing the death of a Chiawana High sophomore.
Cole Grad and two buddies were enjoying a hot summer night in the cool Columbia River on Thursday when something went tragically wrong.
While shimmying across a concrete wall and wire fence surrounding the private pump house south of Road 80, Grad apparently grabbed a pipe somehow connected to the pump system, was shocked and fell into the water, said Pasco police Sgt. Scott Warren.
The teens were using the corner of the wall to jump into a deeper part of the river.
Grad, 15, went under the water and his friends couldn’t see him in the fading light. So they rushed to the shore and used one of their cellphones to call 911, giving concise directions so paramedics and police could find them.
Pasco Assistant Fire Chief Dave Hare said they got the call at 8:24 p.m., and sent an ambulance, fire engine and the Pasco Fire Rescue boat.
One firefighter tried to reach Grad after spotting the teen floating in the river, but once he got in the water up to his knees he felt an electrical shock and realized it was an unsafe scene, Warren said. He backed out of the river and instructed crew members on the rescue boat to pick up Grad.
Another firefighter touched the same part of the electrified pole and got a significant shock, Warren said.
Paramedics performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Grad once he was inside the boat, while he was transferred to an ambulance on shore and all the way to Kadlec Regional Medical Center, Hare said.
He was pronounced dead at the Richland hospital.
Hare said the two firefighters, whose names were not released, were checked at Kadlec and cleared to return to duty.
An autopsy was done on Grad on Friday by Dr. Jeff Reynolds, a forensic pathologist from Yakima.
Candice Hermanson, Franklin County’s chief deputy coroner, said the teen died from an accidental drowning.
Reynolds wants to do a further evaluation of the tissue and cells, possibly to determine what role the electrocution played in the drowning. That could take up to a month.
“There wasn’t definitive proof on the body today, but he’s going to do further analysis on that,” Hermanson said.
Grad, a member of the Class of 2020, had played football and baseball his freshman year.
Jennifer Stachofsky, a cousin of the teen’s parents, Angela and Jessie Grad, wrote Friday on Facebook that the family greatly appreciates the love.
“Thank you for all of your prayers and kind things already shared, said and done,” Stachofsky said. “So appreciative of everyone involved in his rescue, the hospital staff and all of my family and friends.”
“We covet your prayer as we walk this dark valley, trusting God will see us through each step,” she added.
Shane Edinger, the Pasco School District’s public affairs director, said even though they are on summer break, a group of counselors will be at Chiawana from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. next Tuesday through Friday if students need to talk about Grad or what happened.
“The district offers its condolences and support to the student’s family after this tragic loss,” Edinger said. “Counselors will be on hand at Chiawana High School next week to offer any needed emotional support to his classmates and friends.”
On Thursday night, a fire captain broke into the pump house and shut off the electrical breakers.
A Franklin PUD line crew then responded and cut the power at a nearby pole, de-energizing the area.
Police officers were posted at the scene overnight until detectives got there at 9 a.m. Friday with a search warrant. Warren said that step was necessary because the pump house and its surrounding fence are private property.
He would not release the name of the pump house’s owner.
However, he said there was razor wire around the fence to keep people off that concrete wall. Somehow the teens got around it.
“There’s nothing that shows that they were inside the fence line, at this time,” Warren said.
He didn’t know how many times they had gone across the wall to jump before Grad was shocked.
“It’s a tragic event that’s going to affect the community as a whole,” he added. “It always sucks when you lose a young kid to an incident that could likely be prevented.”
Police were joined Friday by officials from Franklin PUD and the state Department of Labor & Industries.
“Franklin PUD is deeply saddened by the loss of this young man and we are committed to aiding in the investigation in any way possible,” Tim Nies, general manager, said in a written statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
Matthew Erlich, a spokesman with the Department of Labor & Industries, said it is a 240-volt, 30-amp pump that has been along the Pasco shore since at least the 1970s. He couldn’t say how the pumped river water is used.
The department had both a supervisor and a lead inspector at the scene “looking for illegal electrical work, or whether the installation was safe.”
Erlich said the inspector had questions about whether it was properly grounded.
They have not yet pulled the permits or checked when the pump house was last inspected, but Erlich said that will be part of the final report that is forwarded to Pasco police sometime next week.