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What officers found when they investigated carnival electrocution

A carnival operated by Evans United Shows on the last day of its stop in front of Towne West Mall. A 15-month-old girl was electrocuted at the carnival. (May 14, 2017)
A carnival operated by Evans United Shows on the last day of its stop in front of Towne West Mall. A 15-month-old girl was electrocuted at the carnival. (May 14, 2017)

Wichita officers investigating outside a carnival bouncy house where 15-month-old Pressley Bartonek was electrocuted on May 12 found an industrial light and a power box that were not insulated, a police investigative report says.

Both were plugged in with extension cords. The base of the light was sitting in water, and the pole was touching a metal guardrail, according to the police reports.

A police supervisor who was sent to investigate was also shocked that night when he touched either the guardrail or power box near where the girl was electrocuted.

Police took the uninsulated light and power box at the traveling carnival as evidence “related to the electrocution,” says the reports, obtained by The Eagle on Thursday through a request under the Kansas Open Records Act.

Gregory Young, the Wichita attorney representing Pressley’s parents, said Thursday: “Reading the report just emphasizes the extreme tragedy this was and how unnecessary it was. Just horrible to read.”

In a cover letter to the documents provided to The Eagle, police Capt. Anna Hatter noted that there was no criminal investigation.

The carnival operator, Evans United Shows, based in Plattsburg, Mo., has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

An industrial light, and a power box

Earlier that evening, the family went to McDonald’s and then the carnival, where Pressley rode the carousel with her father. She was too small to go on most of the rides, so she walked around with her family and was “jumping around and being a playful kid as usual,” the report says. The family ended up at the bouncy house where Pressley grabbed the guardrail.

According to officers sent to the bouncy house shortly before 9 that night, the Conway Springs girl “was standing on the south side of the entrance directly in front of an industrial light, and a power box,” the report said. “Both of these items were plugged in with extension cords, neither were insulated. The industrial light was being used to shine light through the bounce house at night.”

A separate police report said that “it is believed that Pressley was electrocuted by the guard rail” she had been touching outside the bouncy house. A police supervisor investigating after the girl was taken to a hospital after she collapsed grabbed the same guardrail Pressley had grasped, “and it shocked him with electricity,” the report says. A separate report documenting the scene said the police supervisor “was shocked when touching a power box near” where the girl had been standing.

The investigator who documented the scene noted that the light was about 2 feet, 5 inches from the power box and that the pole for the light was touching the railing. The power box was directly connected to the industrial light.

“We later noticed water underneath the base stand and inside of the rail stands,” the investigator wrote in her report.

A Weststar employee was sent to check “the energy output” on items close to where the girl had been, the report said.

The “circuit from the power box to the railing … ranged from 270 volts to 290 volts.”

A second circuit, from the lamp to the railing, measured at 294.7 volts.

A third circuit, from the light base stand to the railing, showed 299.8 volts.

The police report quoted a Westar employee as saying, “I would not want to touch any of these items without protection.”

The scene investigator unplugged the power box from the light and took both items to be stored as evidence.

Accidental electrocution

A separate police narrative of the incident begins with police being sent at 8:50 p.m., May 12, to 4600 W. Kellogg — the parking lot at Towne West Square — for a small child not breathing. Officers found 15-month-old Pressley by the bounce house in the center of the carnival. She was unconscious, with a group of people around her, one giving chest compressions.

Pressley’s parents told police that their daughter been playful and had grabbed onto the guardrail and leaned back, the narrative said. But when someone went to tickle her throat, she didn’t respond. Her parents noticed that her eyes had rolled back.

Her father realized that her body had gone limp while her hands remained locked on the guardrail. When he pulled her off the rail, she wasn’t breathing. A nurse started giving chest compressions.

At the Wesley Medical Center emergency room, a doctor told police that Pressley had a slight pulse at 9:48 p.m., “after about an hour of Pressley having no oxygen to the brain,” it said.

At some point, a police supervisor called an officer at the hospital and said he had been shocked when he grabbed the guardrail the girl had been holding. A police evidence unit was sent to document the scene at 10:28 p.m.

At 11:46 p.m., another doctor told police at the hospital that a CT scan showed Pressley “had some brain swelling but no other signs of trauma, or damage to the skull or brain.”

The police narrative said the conclusion was “that Pressley was electrocuted by the guard rail. Doctors found exit burn marks on Pressley’s left foot.”

An autopsy found that Pressley died from electrocution after touching an electrically charged fence at the carnival and that it was an accident.

Her organs were donated, her family has said in a statement.

The 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.

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