Death of 10-year-old convinces D.A., legislator to push for new law
A 10-year-old girl from Windsor, Calif., died swimming in Lake Sonoma almost two years ago. She was electrocuted when she touched a pier with faulty wiring – a pier where owners allegedly knew there was danger.
Deirdre McCormick was swimming happily with friends when she died, according to her grandmother, South Lake Tahoe’s Linda McCormick, who said, “there is always room for an accident but (the marina owners) were not careful.”
Sonoma County District Attorney Michael Mullins agreed but could never bring charges against the company that operates the marina at Lake Sonoma for the U.S. Army. He said there was no doubt that the concessionaire that runs the marina was negligent and that the wiring on the dock was faulty, so he decided to push for legislation that would make marinas safer.
“We really need it, there is danger like that (at Lake Tahoe), I just know it,” McCormick said. “The only thing we can do is make people aware so that this never happens again.”
Ensuring the safety of those who use marinas is the purpose of a bill introduced by Sen. Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, at Mullins’ urging. However, SB 2040 has met with opposition in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I don’t understand it,” Mullins said. “I am going to do my damndest to make sure it passes. This legislation would establish responsibility for inspections through county building departments … which are quite capable of making sure electricity doesn’t get into the water and kill people.”
The bill would require city and county building departments to inspect marinas within their jurisdiction each year to ensure they meet public safety standards. There are approximately 800 marinas in California, including several on Lake Tahoe.
According to Jedd Medefind, a spokesman for Sen. Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, who serves as vice chair on the Appropriations Committee, the committee members were concerned that the language regarding inspections is vague and the estimated $500,000 cost each year is not worth the benefit.
“The biggest question had to do with, is this a major problem? And will it make anybody’s life better?” Medefind said. “This bill would not even solve the problem (at Lake Sonoma) because the lake is owned by the federal government.”
Even the Democratic leadership of the committee were reluctant to support the bill, but were also reluctant to kill legislation introduced by a member of their own party. Instead, they suggested Chesbro refine the language of the legislation.
“We still feel optimistic and there is no reason to think it won’t pass,” said Chesbro, who will spend the next few weeks working with opponents to make them feel more comfortable and work on changes.
“If our kids are going to marinas, we should be sure that they are safe,” he said. “And if it costs the state a little more money it is money well spent.”
At the Timber Cove Marina, which is preparing to open for the summer, Bob Hassett said he could not comment on the legislation or how inspections might affect the marina because he had not seen the bill.
“But safety is always our first priority,” said Hassett, who operates the marina. “If codes are there to ensure safety then it is a good thing.”
McCormick said the emphasis should be put on safety and that it didn’t even occur to her that her granddaughter could die like she did.
“She was a happy, happy child,” she said. “At least she died happy – playing in the water with her sister and her cousin.”
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