Death settlement raises question of fountain safety

AMERICUS, GA (WALB) - Just how safe are fountains?

That's the question raised by a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the family of a woman electrocuted in a fountain at South Georgia Technical College.

The state paid $1.4 million to settle the lawsuit. But experts say anyone reaching into a fountain to touch the water should know the danger.

Meanwhile, the fountain in the center of the South Georgia Technical College campus where 18 year old Adriana Rhine was electrocuted in September 2012 still lies empty. A chain surrounds it to keep people out.

Rhine's family's wrongful death lawsuit claimed poor maintenance allowed the water to be electrically charged, and she was killed when she stepped in to retrieve her young son's ball.

Officials require that fountains pass an inspection when they are built, but maintenance is ultimately up to the owner.

"Without question, maintenance is an important thing in any kind of area where standing water might be present around electricity," said Dougherty County Development Services Manager Tracy Hester.

Experts say if the bonding and grounding of electrical devices driving the water are not maintained, reaching into the water could pack a punch of at least 110 volts.

The Festival Springs fountain at Riverfront Park, which is meant for kids to play in, is inspected three times each day for chlorine and electrical levels.

South Georgia Tech students say they would like to see the fountain flowing again.

"I think they should re-open it up, and post a sign out there saying keep out," said student Vonnie Walker.

Hester said it costs a lot of money to operate those kinds of fountains.

It will cost up to $60,000 to replace the two pumps that drive the fountain in front of the government center in downtown Albany.

Water Gas and Light experts are in charge of keeping public fountains safe in Albany. But they say people who have water features or hot tubs in their homes should think the same way.

"It's a costly venture to keep those things running," said Hester. "In reference to safety, even the little portable units that you buy at Lowe's or Home Depot, those can be dangerous if not maintained as they should be."

Water Gas and Light Officials say personal responsibility is also important. You should not go into most fountains.