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Girl died of electrocution after grabbing carnival fence, autopsy shows

A 15-month-old girl died from electrocution after she grabbed fencing at a carnival at Towne West Square. A utility worker found 290 volts of electricity being carried by equipment at the carnival, a Westar Energy official said. (May 14, 2017)
A 15-month-old girl died from electrocution after she grabbed fencing at a carnival at Towne West Square. A utility worker found 290 volts of electricity being carried by equipment at the carnival, a Westar Energy official said. (May 14, 2017) File photo

Fifteen-month-old Pressley Bartonek died from electrocution after grabbing an electrically charged fence at a carnival in west Wichita on May 12, an autopsy report says.

The “manner of death is accident,” the report said.

Pressley, of Conway Springs, was hospitalized after she “developed cardiac arrest due to contact with electrically charged fence,” the report said. She was diagnosed with “brain death” five days later.

The autopsy found electrical-type burns on two toes of her left foot and a cut on her tongue.

The report gave this account: Pressley was at a “small carnival” in a parking lot when she “grabbed a metal fence” at about 8:45 p.m., and “her face changed expression.”

“Her father pulled her hands from the fence, and she became unresponsive.”

Someone called 911, and bystanders began efforts to resuscitate her. Fire personnel then tried to revive her, and when emergency medical service workers arrived, and her heart was beating irregularly.

She arrived at the hospital at 9:32 p.m., where resuscitative efforts brought her pulse back about 30 minutes later.

The girl “remained ventilator-dependent,” and she “continued to clinically decline,” the report said.

According to police, a check by an electrical company showed about 300 volts coming from the fence, the report said.

The show was in the parking lot of Towne West Square. The carnival operator, Evans United Shows, which is based in Plattsburg, Mo., has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

The Wichita Police Department says it won’t comment on its investigation.

Pressley’s family has said that she was outside a bounce house at the traveling carnival when she touched a metal fence. After the Wichita tragedy, the carnival put on a show at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka.

Current Kansas law doesn’t require that the state get an official report when a carnival ride causes a serious injury or death.

Joe Filoromo, head of Pennsylvania’s amusement ride safety program and its 2,000 inspectors, has told The Eagle that because of the Wichita death, he is warning inspectors to make sure that electrical wires are kept away from fencing.

A Westar Energy worker dispatched after Pressley was electrocuted found that carnival fencing she touched was carrying 290 volts, the energy company has said.

Carnivals bring in generators that feed heavy-duty electrical cables to power their rides. Although the wires are heavy-duty, they can get damaged, said Filoromo, the Pennsylvania official.

“The wire can be brand-new, and you can end up with a nick in it,” which can allow electricity to flow to whatever it touches, he said.

Filoromo’s advice for carnival owners and inspectors is to carry a voltage detector – which costs less than $20 – to check fencing and other equipment.

“If someone would have come ahead of that girl and touched the fence” with a voltage detector, they would have been alerted, he said.

Pressley’s parents provided a statement after her death saying her organs were being donated to patients needing transplants, “that her death was not in vain.”

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