Workers ‘dangerously bypassed’ circuit breaker at Dixon canal where teens died, suit claims

The families of two 17-year-old boys fatally electrocuted while trying to rescue a dog from a Dixon canal have filed a new complaint against the Solano County’s irrigation district, alleging that employees “dangerously bypassed” a key safety device that could have prevented the accident.

Jacob Schneider and Jacob Hourmouzus, who were both seniors at Dixon High School, died April 1 in a freak accident involving a metal bridge spanning a canal near Dixon Avenue west of Interstate 80, according to the Solano County Sheriff’s Office.

The two boys were among a group of four teenagers walking with a dog alongside a canal owned and operated by the Solano Irrigation District. As the group crossed a metal bridge, the dog reportedly jumped or fell into the canal. Schneider and Hourmouzus then jumped into the canal in an effort to save the dog, but as the two boys attempted to pull themselves back up onto the bridge, they were “electrocuted and unable to release their grip,” killing both of them.

Law enforcement and irrigation district officials have not commented on how the bridge came to be energized with electricity.

But recent complaints for damages, filed Thursday in Solano Superior Court on behalf of the two victims’ parents and one of the surviving teenagers, claim based on information and belief that the bridge was electrified because district workers improperly bypassed a circuit breaker, preventing grounding.

The complaint alleges irrigation district workers “dangerously bypassed” an electrical panel circuit that would “force a circuit breaker to trip at the panel located on the PG&E power transmission pole” when the electrical current flow exceeded normal limits. PG&E is not a defendant in either lawsuit.

The two complaints allege “gross negligence” by the district, which is an independent special district serving Solano County, and its employees. It employs 81 people, according to its website.

A Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spokesperson told The Sacramento Bee one day after the deaths that its equipment was not involved in the incident, but PG&E crews did de-energize the bridge in response to the emergency, according to a news release by the sheriff’s office.

“SID employees re-routed the electrical supply to bypass this overcurrent breaker protection and used a modified fuse system, but again, did so without properly grounding the system and to include the conduit, resulting in a free flowing current,” the Schneiders’ complaint claims. “As a result, this dangerous bypass, without proper grounding, could and did allow the metal walking bridge to become electrically energized resulting in fatal injuries to the users of the bridge.”

The Solano County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the fatal incident.

“The Solano Irrigation District is cooperating fully with the Sheriff’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding this accident,” spokeswoman Janet Zimmerman said Friday in an emailed statement. “Because the investigation has not been completed, and with the pending litigation, we are unable to comment further.”

Each complaint lists two causes of action: dangerous conditions of public property, and negligence resulting in wrongful death. The plaintiffs seek monetary damages, in an amount to be determined at trial, as well as funeral and burial expenses for the deceased.

Plaintiffs Jim and Colleen Schneider, Jacob Schneider’s parents, are represented by attorney Robert Buccola. Hourmouzus’ parents, Brandon Hourmouzus and Candy Carrillo, are represented by Daniel Wilcoxen.

The Schneiders’ complaint also includes as a plaintiff Kelby Holland, one of the four then-teenagers involved in the incident, who reportedly jumped into the SID canal and knocked the other two boys off the bridge in an effort to save them.

Holland “was shocked when he knocked Decedent (Schneider) off the electrically energized conduit and then shocked several other times after he jumped in the Dixon water canal to pull the Decedent to safety,” Thursday’s complaint claims. He also suffered “severe emotional distress” from the incident, in which he watched two of his friends die, court filings say.

Holland, who is a resident of Washington state, had a government tort claim rejected by operation of law on or about Thursday, according to the Schneiders’ complaint.

Previous claims filed by the plaintiffs’ attorneys on April 23, which did not make specific allegations on how the bridge came to be electrified and did not include Holland as a plaintiff, were rejected earlier in June by operation of law, according to the most recent complaint.

Both complaints filed Thursday also state that the canal and surrounding areas are routinely used by the public “for recreation, by hikers,” the Schneiders’ filing notes.

Carrillo, Hourmouzus’ mother, spoke to reporters the day after the incident. She said she believed her son was riding four-wheelers with friends near an orchard just before traversing the bridge. Talking to reporters near the scene of the incident, she noted a lack of signage or fencing to keep people out of the area near the bridge and canal.

“He was electrocuted at 17½ years old ... that’s too soon for any young person to be taken off this earth,” Carrillo said at the time.

Carrillo on April 2 called it “neglect” if it turned out authorities did not take necessary measures to prevent the bridge from becoming energized.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.