EXCLUSIVE: Parents shift focus to power line safety in wake of sons’ deaths (part 1)

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Together, two state lawmakers are on a mission.

They want to protect other Texas communities from ever reliving the nightmare that unfolded in their home districts, in the peaceful piney woods of East Texas. 

On August 5, 2017, three Boy Scouts – Will Brannon, Heath Faucheux and Thomas Larry – set sail on a catamaran at Lake O’ the Pines.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

The mast of their boat came in contact with a 12,000 volt transmission line controlled by Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative. 

All three boys were killed. 

“This should have never happened,” said Michelle Faucheux, Heath’s mother.

It was a tragedy repeated from 1982.

Less than a mile away from where the boys were killed, Brockett Irwin, a Longview attorney, was electrocuted after his sailboat’s mast came in contact with the same transmission line.

His twin brother, Tom Irwin, says the boys’ deaths are unacceptable. “If you’re going to have live wire over water, then box it off so nobody can get near it or raise it, one or the other.”

It wasn’t until after the parents say they realized their sons’ deaths were 100 percent preventable.

“We found out later that that electric line was too low,” said Michelle Brannon, Will’s mother.

In order to redirect their grief and anger, the boys’ parents say they want to see change.

“(Change) that will prevent what happened to our sons from ever happening again,” said Mrs. Brannon.

She and her husband have spent more than a year reviewing how electric utilities’ safety and maintenance programs are monitored by Texas and the Public Utility Commission.

Their research included requirements for the annual review of power lines, reporting any known areas that are currently not meeting safety standards and reporting any fatalities or injuries related to those power lines.

“This is information that is not, right now, being reported to the state or available to the public,” said Mrs. Brannon.

She also said she discovered it is the public’s burden to report damaged or dangerous power lines. 

From El Paso to Texarkana, Amarillo to Brownsville, it’s a statewide issue.

“You know, it’s human nature. Businesses and people are only going to do what is required of them,” said Mrs. Brannon.

Which is why these parents say safety requirements need to be established in Austin. 

“The biggest thing we can do for our boys is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, and the only way to make that happen, is to remove the root cause,” said Stan Brannon, Will’s father.

He says the root cause was lack of government oversight. 

“I’m not a big government guy. I hate big government. In this case, that’s what we need,” said Mr. Brannon.

The boys’ parents have been working to address the lack of requirements, by starting with the two men who represent their districts, state senator Bryan Hughes of Mineola, and state representative Chris Paddie of Marshall. 

“Through our discussions with them and also the utilities as well, we began to craft a bill that would provide at least a report to the PUC and hopefully shine a little bigger light on public safety,” said Paddie.

Hughes said he agrees. “He and I are working together on this. We want to make sure that good protections are in place.”

However, the legislative road is a rocky one, sometimes taking years to see change. But these parents say they are united in this journey. 

“We’re going to fight this together, all of us. We’ll fight this until the last breath that I take and honor these three boys,” said Faucheux.

Five months after the incident, Upshur Rural Electric said it’s “premature to discuss” what steps might be taken regarding those deadly transmission lines. 

A year after the incident, KETK revisited the scene to discover the lines were still there, and nothing had been done to change them.

In October 2018, a prayer garden was opened in memory of Brannon, Faucheux and Larry at the First Baptist Church in Hallsville.

In early March 2019, Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative announced it had buried the transmission lines under the lake. 

On March 8, 2019, Texas lawmakers Sen. Bryan Hughes and Rep. Chris Paddie filed power line safety legislation in Austin.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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