Mother of 11-year-old Texas boy killed in power outage sues ERCOT, Entergy

The single mother of an 11-year-old boy who died during a prolonged blackout at her Texas home amid a freezing winter storm is suing the companies responsible for the flow of energy through the state’s power grid for $ 100 million in damage.

Cristian Pineda, 11, was found unconscious in his bed Tuesday after spending the night with his 3-year-old brother in an effort to keep warm, according to María Pineda’s lawsuit. Cristian’s mother called 911 after realizing he was unresponsive and tried CPR, but was unable to revive the boy, according to the lawsuit.

Now María Pineda is suing the Texas Electrical Reliability Council and Entergy, alleging that gross negligence caused the boy’s death and that Cristian died because his “power supplier made decisions based on profits.”

“This young man saw snow for the first time on Monday and died on Tuesday,” Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing Cristian’s mother, told NBC News on Monday.

María Pineda watches a video of her son, Cristian Pavon Pineda, 11, playing in the snow for the first time on February 18, 2021, in Conroe, Texas. Pavon Pineda died of presumed hypothermia as temperatures plummeted into adolescence on Tuesday, February 16.Gustavo Huerta / Houston Chronicle via AP

An autopsy is still pending, according to the Conroe Police Department, about 40 miles north of Houston. Results could take 60 to 90 days, police said.

Cristian showed no signs of medical distress and had no underlying problems prior to his death, said Buzbee, who described him as a healthy and active preteen. Dozens of people died across the country in connection with the winter storm, and at least 22 in Texas on Saturday.

Although the Pineda family, like many other Texans, had a roof over their heads, their circumstances were comparable to being homeless during the storm, Buzbee said.

“The misinformation is probably what makes people angry the most, and it certainly makes me very angry, because they lied to us about, you know, we’re going to have continuous blackouts,” Buzbee said. “That was not what happened at all. It was a total blackout, with no end in sight. “

The lawsuit filed Saturday alleges that ERCOT and Entergy told consumers about continuous or temporary blackouts, but failed to warn that there could be longer blackouts that would last for days. Without warning, consumers were unprepared to face several days without power, the lawsuit alleges.

It also alleges that Entergy “chose to cut off power to those most vulnerable to the cold” because it did not prioritize areas where residents were most vulnerable to the cold in the face of a power shortage.

“Power outages during blackouts occurred at the circuit level, and many local providers chose which circuits to close and when,” the suit says. “So there were images of empty office buildings in downtown Houston with power, but Pineda’s mobile home park was without power.”

Buzbee is representing about half a dozen other cases in which families have lost loved ones to the cold allegedly because they did not obtain accurate information on the severity of the pending energy crisis.

“It’s so ironic to me … Texas is the energy capital of the country, as the United States proudly proclaims its energy independence, that we no longer trust you to know the Middle East, etc.,” Buzbee said. “And yet we have people who die in Houston, Texas, at home because they don’t have electricity.”

Entergy said in a statement that it could not comment on pending litigation, but that the company is “deeply saddened by the loss of life in our community.”

Millions of Texans were left without power when an unusual cold snap hit the southwestern state, plunging temperatures below zero and blanketing the state in ice and snow. ERCOT, which oversees about 90 percent of Texas energy production, cited equipment frozen for lost production of its natural gas and some renewable energy sources.

Texas is free of federal regulations because it is the only state that uses its own electrical grid, although it is one of the largest producers and consumers of energy in the country. Critics have said that this independence allowed the state to bypass federal requirements that would have better prepared the power grid for winter weather in order to maximize its profits for private utility providers.

ERCOT has not yet reviewed the litigation, but added in a statement that it believes it did the right thing to avoid a statewide blackout. The energy manager cited the fact that 46 percent of private generation went offline last Monday.

“Our thoughts go out to all Texans who have suffered and are suffering because of the past week,” ERCOT said.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared ERCOT reform a top priority last week, urging the Legislature to investigate the utility grid.

“This is unacceptable,” Abbot said. “Reviewing ERCOT’s preparations and decisions is an emergency item so that we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions.”

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