I-TEAM UPDATE: Local parks close sections for renovations after electrocution

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Friday, January 18, 2019

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – The city of Augusta has issued a statement regarding renovations at local parks for safety updates.

Our contracted expert and staff are working to ensure full safety of electrical wiring at our parks. Out of a continued abundance of caution, we have closed areas of three parks until we can be assured the matters have been corrected and in no way pose a physical hazard. Those three parks are Diamond Lakes, Doughty Park and Fleming Tennis Center. Until repairs are made to the affected equipment, we have secured them with lock-out tags.

It remains our plan to perform similar assessments at all of our recreational facilities. We will continue to prioritize electrical deficiencies found in these assessments above other work orders.

They also added this statement:

Portions of parks that are dark at night with no electricity are Diamond Lakes, Doughty Park, and Fleming Tennis Center.

Check back with News 12 for the latest in this story as our I-Team digs deeper.

Thursday, January 17, 2019
News 12 at 6/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – News 12 is learning exactly what is fixed and still has to be repaired at local parks according to an electrician.

All of this is spurred by the death of 12-year-old Melquan Robinson, whose mom calls him a hero.

"If my son didn't die and just got shocked it probably would have been something else swept up under the rug, I think by my son dying it was a wake-up call for the entire community," said Chinnika Jackson, Melquan's mother.

The tragedy led Augusta to start fixing problems at 8 parks, all pointed out by a professional.

For as long as Elizabeth Stanton can remember, the men in her neighborhood have "talked shop" on the corner, with Doughty Park at the center of everything.

“Their kids come from up the street to come and play," said Stanton. "They play basketball every single day and on Sundays, they have a basketball tournament."

Some of the park's problems are obvious but, others need a different set of eyes to see.

Eight parks were assessed by High Voltage Specialists Inc. after a 12-year-old boy was electrocuted in another county park.

"It is sad that a 12-year-old boy had to die in order to check a park where little kids play,” said Stanton.

The city's specialists found a ground wire incorrectly "lugged." They also found that a ground wire was needed since it wasn't installed when the park was first built.

At Newman Tennis Center, a photo shows the cut ground wire going to the light pole near one of the courts.

The city tells us they are taking "action to make our parks safer places for children and adults" and have "made repairs expeditiously."

"It's crazy that he had to lose his life though, an innocent child," said Stanton. "That's all that went through my head. That could have been my son."

Tuesday, January 15, 2019
News 12 at 6/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – A community is looking for answers after a 12-year-old boy, Melquan Robinson, was electrocuted at a local park.

Pastor Angela Harden addressed the Augusta-Richmond County Commission Tuesday saying "a child lost his life. Why, why did this happen? We know that he was electrocuted at Fleming Park, but it did not have to happen."

Pastor Angela Harden pointed to a case from 1991 when a then 8-year-old Crystal Underwood was also shocked at Fleming Park.

After Commission, Melquan's mother, father and the family attorney spoke out for the first time.

Melquan's mother Chinnika Jackson said she appreciates the community for supporting them and says she doesn't want her son's death to be in vain.

"If my son didn't die and just got shocked it probably would have been something else swept up under the rug, I think by my son dying it was a wake-up call for the entire community," said Chinnika Jackson.

Lead Attorney Rob Register with Beasley Allen Law Firm says back in December all parties, including Augusta-Richmond County, had electrical engineers at the site at Fleming Park where Melquan was electrocuted.

Register told News 12 the legal team for Melquan's family also had an electrical contractor who maintains and services systems like this park.

"Collectively I think we physically know why the electrical current was in this area. The question now is who is responsible for installing it, maintaining it and keeping it safe," said Register.

“Well in the most simple terms, and I am not an engineer there was a wire that came in contact with the metal pole and it caused an electrical current in the area where Melquan was standing near the fence," said Jackson. "The question now is who is responsible for installing it, maintaining it and keeping it safe."

News 12 received the facility electrical assessment report by High Voltage Specialist, Inc.

The assessment shows repairs and recommendations made at eight other county parks after Melquan was electrocuted.

The county spokesman says the eight parks listed have "similarities to Fleming" athletic complex where Melquan Robinson lost his life.

One of them is Doughty Park. Workers noted there that "while looking in all junction boxes there was no ground wire installed when [the] park was built."

The report shows that the work order hasn't been resolved yet.

The report also shows that at Newman Tennis Center, High Voltage Specialist Inc. recommended "re-installing a new ground wire" saying "the ground wire going to the pole by court #4 is cut."

In December and January, workers replaced GCFI covers at May Park, Newman Tennis Center, Diamond Lakes, and Fleming Tennis Center, according to the report.

OSHA's website says that GCFI's protect against the most common form of electrical shock hazard, the ground-fault. Those covers keep rain or other elements from damaging it.

Fleming Athletic Complex is not listed in the report.

The County Spokesman tells us they are gathering information about the incident, but are not in a position to comment.

Monday, January 14, 2019
News 12 at 6/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – A community is left wanting to know how a 12-year-old boy was electrocuted at a park so many people go to daily.

The city says they've done what they can to fix the problem but people still want to know how this happened.

The city and the attorney for the 12-year-old who was electrocuted at Fleming Park are giving more answers.

This is after a big bombshell that it had happened before.

The lawyer for the family that lost their 12-year-old son is speaking out.

They are saying they "appreciate the support the community has shown and that they are investigating and hope to determine who is responsible for maintaining a safe environment at the park."

This is happening after woman spoke out about her own experience about getting shocked at Fleming Park 27-years earlier.

"I remember everything. I remember grabbing touching the fence and it grabbing me turning my whole body to the left side. I don't remember what happened after that except waking up on the grass," said Crystal Underwood.

A lawsuit unsealed by News 12 shows it happened in 1991.

The city of Augusta is telling us they "are gathering information about the incident," but "are not in a position to comment.

Attorneys for Melquan's family say they didn't know about it.

"I just remember waking up, my mother was crying. I will never forget that though," said Underwood.

Following the incident in 1991, county officials testified in a deposition that the cause was determined to be the ground wiring.

The city says they've contracted experts to review the conditions of electrical systems at "eight athletic facilities with similarities to Fleming" but they haven't responded to our request, asking what they fixed.

Citizens are asking the same questions and plan to ask in person Tuesday at commission.

The lead attorney for Melquan’s family says they believe they know what “physically” caused the fence to become electrified.

Kelly tells us the city says they've made improvements to eight parks.

These are the 6 parks they told us about back in October they were inspecting because they had similar wiring to Fleming Park.

We've asked the city if these are the parks where they've made changes and which ones we're missing.

5:00 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – The attorney for the family of 12-year-old Melquan Robinson has released a statement.

We appreciate the support the community has shown to the family and loved ones of Melquan Robinson.  We are continuing to investigate the exact cause of this tragic incident and hope to determine who is responsible for maintaining a safe environment at the park.

We will have more on this story during the 6 o’clock newscast.

Friday, January 11, 2019
News 12 @ 6 O'clock / NBC 26 at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Ken Werkman forgot about that day in June so many years ago until he saw Crystal Underwood featured in an I-TEAM report. He is talking to News 12 for the same reason Crystal Underwood talked to us, neither want to see another child hurt at Flemming Park.

Ken Werkman says as he watched the story of Crystal Underwood unfold, "I didn't connect it until I saw her on tv.”

That's when this buried memory became unearthed.

Liz: "And then you remembered?
Ken: "I remembered."

She looked different but hearing her story brought Ken Werkman back.

"My son was playing a game."

To that June day in 1991.

Ken: "They were dancing down the fence line and every time they would touch it they would jump back and say oh that tickles."

Werkman was sitting on his tailgate near the fence when the laughter turned into screams.

Ken: "When she should hit the fence it actually knocked her threw her up in the air and knocked her on the ground. Then I jumped off the truck and I touched her I was actually shocked because it was charged at the time."

The lawsuit supports his story. Underwood did not have shoes on. She was shocked when she touched the light pole while still holding onto the fence.

Ken: "The groundskeeper says when he cut the grass it would tingle him too. He said he mentioned it but that's all he said."
Liz; "And that was before she was shocked?"
Ken: "Yes."
Liz: "So he told his supervisor?"
Ken: "Yes he had told him about it."

Testimonies documented the lawsuit state several people complained about the fence tingling or shocking them before she was hurt. a county worker told the court they previously thought it was a bad ballast in the light was causing the charge. They later found the problem was in the ground.

According to the lawsuit, the problem they found then is that the copper wire was connected to a galvanized clamp it should be a copper wire connected to a copper clamp.

County workers testified they replaced all of the incorrect clamps, but when subpoenaed, they could not produce documentation to prove it.

Ken: “It shouldn't have happened it shouldn't have happened at all they should have done something about that."

Werkman's grandchildren are around the age of Melquan Robinson. He like a lot of people in the community want answers from the city.

Back in the 90's Augusta-Richmond County was not consolidated. The county operated the park and the city electricians maintained the lights on the field.

The city responded saying in part: “The tragic incident at Fleming Athletic Complex is of great concern to us. We have contracted experts to review conditions at eight athletic facilities with similarities to fleming and have made repairs."

They say about the girl being shocked 27 years ago: “Our current leadership team was not in place in 1991. We are gathering information about the incident."

Thursday, January 10, 2019
News 12 @ 6 O’clock / NBC 26 at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Court records show at least two other children were shocked on a fence at Fleming Athletic Complex fence back in 1991.

This comes three months after 12-year-old Melquan Robinson was electrocuted on a fence at Fleming Athletic Complex.

The Augusta-Richmond County Clerk of Court unsealed a lawsuit filed in 1993 detailing an 8-year-old girl, Crystal Underwood, being shocked after touching a fence at Fleming Athletic Complex on June 28, 1991.

Underwood, now 36, is choosing to share what happened to her that day.

"I will never forget that. It's impossible to forget something like that," said Underwood.

Underwood’s mother filed a lawsuit on her daughter’s behalf in 1993.

In Richmond County’s response to their claims, they stated ‘Underwood was standing in the center field of field #4 and was leaning against the fence. She apparently reached out and, while touching the fence, grabbed the light pole at the same time. She was shocked by electromagnetic force at the time, and fell to the ground.”

Underwood says 27 years later, she remembers everything.

"I remember grabbing touching the fence and it grabbing me turning my whole body to the left side. I don't remember what happened after that except waking up on the grass,” said Underwood. “I feel like I might have died and come back.”

The county stated, “the cause of the incident was determined to be underground ground wires that, within the 13 years since installation, had become detached from the ground rods around the light poles.”

The lawsuit states the investigation into the incident was investigated by Bill Goodwin, a representative for Georgia Power, City/county electrician James Adams, Richmond County Parks and Recreation Operations Manager John Bennett, and Assistant Director Tom Beck.

Our I-TEAM found another little girl was shocked by the fence the same summer as Underwood. The Assistant Director of Parks and Rec in 1993, Tom Beck, testified in a deposition that her mother reported that the fence was electrified.

The Parks and Rec Operations Manager also testified in a deposition that a separate incident was reported: “four or five years back.”

That’s two more incidents other than Underwood.

"I think it was brushed under the road.,” said Underwood.

We found there was never any resolution to Underwood’s case against the City of Augusta and Richmond County.

Underwood says her mother couldn’t afford to continue the lawsuit against the city.

Our I-TEAM found after more than five years of nothing else being filed the court administratively closed the case.

"I do recall if I am not mistaken it was too expensive to take on the city."

Underwood’s mother died this December, but in her moms last months of life she heard about Melquan’s case and wanted to bring their own case back to light.

"She told me if I didn't do it .. she would,” said Underwood. "She was 100 percent behind me getting justice for the boy."

More than ever Underwood, now a mother herself, understands what is at stake.

"Can you assure me that it will never, ever happen again? I mean I have three girls,” said Underwood.

Our I-TEAM reached out to the Augusta-Richmond County Administrator and legal department Thursday morning.

We asked them if they were aware of this lawsuit and what changes were done back then.

We have not heard back.

The lawsuit details that the County spent more than 400 dollars to re-attach new ground wires and ground rods after Underwood was shocked by the fence.

The then operations manager testified in a deposition that they determined there was a bad “ballast” because of a cycling light on one of the poles.

Stay with News 12 NBC 26 as we continue to push for answers.

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- News 12 is learning about more cases similar to that of Melquan Robinson, the 12-year-old boy who died after being electrocuted by a fence at Fleming Park.

News 12's Kelly Wiley spoke to a woman who was electrocuted by a fence in that same city park 27 years ago, on June 28, 1991. She was 8 years old at the time.

Court records from 1993 show her family tried to sue the city. This is pre-consolidation, so Richmond County and the city of Augusta were still separate.

Crystal Dawn Underwood described what happened to her to News 12’s Kelly Wiley.

"I remember everything. I remember grabbing touching the fence and it grabbing me turning my whole body to the left side. I don't remember what happened after that except waking up on the grass," Underwood recalled.

News 12 is digging into more details surrounding Fleming Park, and the accidents that have happened there. Check back for the latest.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

2:43 p.m.
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- According to the Richmond County Coroner's Office, 12-year-old Melquan Robinson's cause of death has been determined.

Robinson's cause of death is electrocution. The 12-year-old died October 15, 2018, at Augusta University Medical Center.

8:38 a.m.
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- At next Tuesday’s commission meeting, people in Augusta tell News 12 they plan to stand to represent justice for Melquan Robinson.

Melquan is the 12-year-old who died after being electrocuted while playing football at Fleming Park in October. In November, crews were at the park trying to figure out what caused the electrocution.

People are commenting and sharing a social media post asking for answers.

Count on News 12 to continue to bring you the latest updates on this story.

Friday, November 30, 2018

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Officials with the city of Augusta tell News 12 that workers are back out at a park where a boy died last month.

12-year-old Melquan Robinson died after being electrocuted by a fence at Fleming Park while attending a youth football game.

City officials say a crew is out at the park Friday to continue their assessment.

Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018
News 12 @ 6 O’clock / NBC 26 at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A few weeks ago a 12-year-old was electrocuted and three other boys injured at Fleming Park.

Multiple investigations are in progress trying to figure out how this happened. Inspection crews were out at Fleming Park on Thursday. They say they were out checking their equipment make sure everything was working as it should.

A member in the Claims and Litigation Department for Georgia Power says they were meeting with some of their employees today verifying the equipment that belongs to them. Making sure it’s all working properly in this facility documenting with pictures and notes.

They also set up red flags labeling the buried electrical cable. He says the underground cable is not one of Georgia Power’s but the County’s. The Claims and Litigation member also told News 12 Georgia Power is here to support Augusta Parks in their Research.

He says it is still unclear what caused the fence to become electrified but says Georgia Power is waiting, just like everyone else to see what caused this tragic event.