Abbott signs William Thomas Heath Power Line Safety Act

From left, East Texas Boy Scouts Will Brannon, 17, Heath Faucheux, 16, and Thomas Larry, 11, died in a 2017 sailboating accident at Lake O’ the Pines when the mast of their boat hit a power line. Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law on Friday a bill that will require all utilities to make regular inspections of their power lines to ensure those high-voltage carriers comply with state and federal height and other safety regulations. House Bill 4150 was renamed the William Thomas Heath Powerline Safety Act in memory of the three Scouts.

The parents of three Boy Scouts electrocuted at an East Texas lake in 2017 were celebrating news Monday that regulations were coming to help prevent a similar occurrence again.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 4150 into law Friday. The bill, also known as the William Thomas Heath Power Line Safety Act by state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, would require that all utilities make regular inspections of their power lines to ensure those high-voltage carriers comply with state and federal height and other safety regulations.

Will Brannon, 17, Heath Faucheux, 16, and Thomas Larry, 11, were at Alley Creek at Lake O’ the Pines with fellow Scouts from Hallsville-based Troop 620 on a weekend campout when the mast of their catamaran contacted a power line on Aug. 5, 2017. The two teens died immediately. Thomas died two days later.

Pamela Larry, mother of Thomas, said in an emailed statement the parents of the boys who died are relieved and grateful.

“We are so humbled in knowing that our boys’ lives are being honored,” she said in the email. “We are relieved to be at the end of this particular road, and we are grateful that our lawmakers realize and understand that action has to be taken to prevent our tragedy from happening again.”

Larry said the efforts of the boys’ families with state lawmakers was enough to get the legislation passed, but she said only time will tell if the legislation is enough to prevent such tragedies from happening again.

The families were in Austin when the bill made it past the House, she said.

“Being in Austin when we realized it was passing the House and watching all of these representatives stand in support of the bill, it was overwhelming; it was an oh-my-gosh kind of moment,” she said. “It was important to our representatives to make this change.”

Tony McCullough, marketing and communications manager for the Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative, which owns the power line, said the company is supportive of the law and worked with Paddie to get some information and research needed for the bill.

“It’s our insight that all companies should be doing this anyway,” he said. “We are definitely in support of this, and we’re thankful for Rep. Paddie for introducing this. It’s going to regulate everything on a state level and make sure things are safe.”

McCullough said while he is sure higher labor costs will be incurred through the time and effort for the inspections, the company does not see those as a burden.

Larry said the parents of the boys want to make sure electrocutions caused by low-hanging power lines over lakes are stopped.

“We have said all along that this cannot happen again and that we will fight with every breath we have to make sure steps are put in place to prevent this, and we are,” she said in the email. “As I have said before, the legacy the boys leave behind will be to save lives. Period. The William Thomas Heath Power Line Safety Act is a very big step in that direction.”