KN, p. 294 “Death by Construction”

If this article has no paragraph separations, please double-click on the title. That will create a more readable version.

It’s taken a full year to find a builder that specializes in decks, could fit us into his schedule, and then actually show up to give us an estimate.

We found this guy through an accidental meeting. Months of calling builders listed in the various go-to ‘find your trusted builder here’ sites, following up on referrals from friends, crossing off names of companies that had provided less than satisfactory service (I wondered what was buried beneath one of those lumpy looking new decks in photos of work shared on the internet). We talked about somehow doing it ourselves, knowing that it would take all the weekends into the next millennium.

We were driving through a mall parking lot when we saw a large black van pull up to the curb near us. On the side, in large white letters, said DECKS. I slammed on the brakes, turned the car around, and pulled up next to the van. I jumped out of the car and practically tackled the guy as he got out.

He was startled, but after listening to our tale of woe, gave me his card and told me to call him. I made that call early the next day. He arrived at the house a few days later to assess the damage and discuss what he could do. The deck gods were kind and had delivered a nice young man, experienced in the ways of all things deck. He showed us photos of other jobs, and emailed an estimate. Sticker shock. Almost double what had been the norm just three years before. But we needed the deck replaced. A confluence of events during the Pandemic had created a rotting deck with normal maintenance impossible, and we were desperate.

In prep for the arrival of his crew some two months later, we needed to remove shrubs and bushes that surrounded the deck and ramp leading up to it. Digging next to a structure for days in a row let me get a close look at the underlying structure that would be replaced. Total tear-down was necessary. Previous repairs had left the support system in place, but that would not be possible now. Everything had to go, beams, railings, everything. One of the bushes had grown to fifteen feet tall and has to be cut back each year to allow access to the ramp. It’s a haven for birds all year round, but is loaded with inch long thorns that will rip your skin to shreds if you get too close. While I couldn’t move it, I could certainly cut it back to make a safer work site. Cut it back, cover the remaining six feet tall multiple trunks, with a tarp. There was no need to have bloody workers.

But, you know me. I began to think of other safety concerns. I looked up the stats at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NOISH) and saw that in 2019 there were 11 million construction workers on the official books of licensed contractors. Who knows how many unofficial ones there are? I was stunned at how many fatalities there are on the job with licensed contractors and fully permitted sites.    

Reasons for the 991 recorded deaths on the job in 2019:

  • Falls to a lower level were the leading cause of work-related deaths in construction (401, or 36.4% of the total that year)
  • Struck-by incidents (170 or 15.4% of the total)
  • Electrocutions (79 or 7.2% of the total)
  • Caught-in/between incidents (59 or 5.4% of the total)

A concerning bit of information: “Small employers with fewer than 20 employees accounted for 75% of fatal falls between 2015 and 2017, even though they made up only 39% of construction payroll employment.” * More recent numbers were not available at this writing.

Our deck was only two feet off the ground, so nobody was worried about injuries due to falls. During construction, nobody was struck by anything, or electrocuted, or caught between deck boards. The only danger our work crew faced was dehydration from the heat, and we provided them with a cooler full of ice and water, and chairs to sit in the shady area of the backyard.

But not everyone works at a site that protected. A family friend died a number of years ago in a fall ten feet from the ground. He became a construction worker after September 11th, a casualty of Wall Street downsizing. He found a job with a private contractor and for the most part, found the work satisfying and safe. He did express concern to his co-workers and friends about the safety protocols in place at the job site where he died, but tragically, was ignored.

The guys that redid our roof wore safety harnesses while nailing down the new shingles or delivering materials to the other workers. There are nail guns involved in any modern day construction, but any workers that show up at our house handle their tools responsibly.

*The Kerrians are fictional characters, but the friend mentioned in this post did pass away in 2002, from a fall on the job. His neck snapped when he hit the ground and he died instantly.

*Stats from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services


KN, p. 294 “Death by Construction” Read More »

KN, p. 174 “Death by Drowning”


Pool-JWWaterVolleyball copy

Sheila and I watched a British TV show that included a ‘death-by-drowning’ scene. The wrong person wound up dead in the pool in this mystery because of an identity mix-up. By coincidence, the very next night, an old movie featured the same cause of death. We began to wonder how often death by drowning actually occurs.


While no stats were available specifically concerning murders caused by drowning, the general answer is that an average of about 11 drowning deaths happen every single day in the USA. It’s actually a huge global problem, not just here, and is the third leading cause of unintentional death worldwide. In 2019, an estimated 236,000 people died from drowning around the world. This number excluded deaths by vessels capsizing, natural disasters, or intentional drowning deaths (suicide or homicide).


Surprising as that number might be, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA lists additional alarming facts – that more children ages 1-4 die from drowning than any other cause of death and nearly 20% of the people who die from drowning in the USA are under 14 years old. Similar information exists for the global stats cited by WHO (World Health Organization). Plus, for every child that dies, there are several others who have to get treated for their injuries in the water. The numbers drop the older you get, so that speaks to ‘who’s watching the children?’


But before you jump to the conclusion that the injuries are all happening at home pools in the USA, think again. About 47% of those who had to get treated were swimming at a home pool, but a full 27% of the swimming injuries happened at a public watering hole.


Then there are the drowning deaths, still accidental, but pushing the limits of that definition. A story in the 2016 news involving a controversial SEAL training death points to a seemingly universal opinion that we are indestructible, that swimming is at best a risky enterprise, but that people in good shape can survive with less oxygen getting into their lungs on a regular basis. Hmmm… not true. Even great swimmers get tired and can drown. In that case, the drowning was eventually ruled a homicide.


Lots of private pool owners swim alone. Why not? The pool beckons on a hot day and it’s a relaxing way to cool off. But, what if you are tired at the end of a work day, and slip on the edge of the pool, knock your head on the way in and… if you are alone, nobody is there to pull you out of the water or to call 911.


That may be what happened to a guy who was found floating in his pool back in April of 2016.


Sadly, sometimes drownings are a family affair. In July, 2022, a Texas visitor to NC was at the beach with his younger brother and both were swept away by the waves. The 12 year old was saved, but the older brother, thought to be the stronger swimmer, died and his body was found a few days later.

So, what can you do to stay safe in the water?

  1. Don’t swim alone.
  2. Make sure that your children know how to swim.
  3. Don’t allow your children to swim unless there is an adult with a phone present.
  4. If you have a pool, fence in your yard.
  5. Be aware of ocean water dangers – undertows, etc
  6. Wear a lifejacket when boating on a lake or in the ocean.

WHO recommends several proven measures to prevent drowning:

*install barriers that control access to water
*teach school-aged children simple swimming and water safety skills
*provide supervised day care for children
*regulate and enforce safe boating
*improve flood risk management.


For other water safety measures see:–263491391.html



For more information on this subject go to:


 Above all, stay safe in and near the water.


*Photo by Jennifer Worley



KN, p. 174 “Death by Drowning” Read More »

KN, p. 222 “Underwater Evidence and Body Recovery: Lakes and Bodies of Water”


Warning: article contains details about dead bodies.

Crime scene tape has been posted around your favorite big pond or lake and nobody can get on/in the water until it has been searched. What has happened? Perhaps a body has been sighted underwater by a swimmer, or a fisherman has snagged something suspicious on his hook. A violent crime may have been committed in the area and the police are looking for discarded weapon(s). Or a report has come in to the police station about a missing person, and that missing person may have been seen in the vicinity of the water. Law enforcement is already on the case and if the crime scene tape is up, along with officers conducting an investigation, then a dive team is most likely working your formerly peaceful spot.


The USA has a great many lakes and assorted other bodies of water, both natural and man-made. Just a few examples:

Alaska: over 3,000,000 lakes (yes, 3 million)

Minnesota: 10,000 lakes (it’s even written on the license plates)

New Jersey: 366 named ponds, lakes, and lagoons

North Carolina: 78 named lakes as well as several bays, sounds, and hundreds of ponds.

Texas: over 200 large lakes and reservoirs.


When that many bodies of water are part of the landscape, it makes sense that the Sheriff’s Department (County law enforcement) and First Responders have teams that specialize in underwater evidence and body recovery. Why the Sheriff’s Department? It’s not about deep pockets financing the operations, it’s all about jurisdiction and best use of available resources. Many large lakes cross town lines, and the Sheriff’s Department has jurisdiction in all the towns in its County. No need to duplicate personnel, when prevailing thought is that one or two teams per County will be able to handle the job of underwater evidence and body recovery.


Note: the local Fire Department usually has a First Responder team on the site of any accident – they are trained for rescue. At some point, it will be determined whether it is a recovery or a rescue and/or if there is a need to preserve evidence. It’s usually a recovery rather than a rescue at a lake, because after a person spends ten minutes under the water without air, it becomes a recovery operation.


Are there enough on-the-water deaths to make certified-for-recovery dive teams necessary? Sadly, yes. The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project tracks those stats for the five biggest USA lakes. There were 99 deaths reported in 2016, 88 in 2017, and as of this writing, 47 so far in 2018 in the Great Lakes alone. North Carolina has reported 10 lake deaths so far in 2018.


Most of the time, the lake deaths are accidental, but on occasion, bodies are found because of a homicide.


A body will float after 72 hours, and continue to float for a couple of days. After that, the naturally occurring body gas is expelled and it will sink again. Bodies are often found fairly quickly, but a body gets like jelly if it’s been in the water for a while, complicating the collection process.


Cold water will preserve a body, and warm water will cause more rapid decay, so divers must work carefully in the warmer locales. Cadaver dogs can pinpoint the location of a body to speed up the work. It’s been discovered that the longer the body is in the water, the wider the smell arc for the dogs. It’s a little like a dead fish smell, more concentrated closer to the body.


If no cadaver dogs are available, the divers swim in ever bigger arcs from the chosen starting point onshore and they work in grid patterns. If the search area is large enough, one of the onshore/on boat team members keeps a map/record of the searched areas.


In general, when working in shallow water, the investigation and recovery can be accomplished by dive teams alone. In deeper water, it will be a combination of boats and dive teams that do the search and recovery.


Most dive teams have the same equipment. They dive with aluminum scuba tanks and 3200 pounds of air will last about an hour. The basic dive suit is worn for warmth and protection – below 10 feet, it’s cold, no matter what the weather is up top. They also have hazmat suits to dive with in toxic environments.


Buoys are color-coded and are released to show when the diver(s) need help or when marking the spot.


With the smallest team of 3 people, there are:

  • Diver
  • Safety diver
  • Surface tender


With a team of 11 people, at any given time, there are five people in the water.


It is protocol to always keep one diver on the surface, ready to assist under water or switch places with the diver already in the water. The “tender” stays on the surface (whether in a boat or on the shore) and directs the search using a rope. The tender signals by tugs; he/she lets the rope play out, and then gives more when needed.


The “tender” not only controls the line and the search pattern, but keeps track of the air time and the clock time on a log, which becomes the official record of the diver/search activity. If there is a new diver on the team, the tender tracks to see the average air use, an important stat to have when making sure a sufficient supply of air tanks is on hand for each team member. The tender can estimate the time/air left in the tanks in use after observing the previous pattern of intake by the newbie.


After spending time in the water, the divers will be dehydrated, another thing the tender keeps track of.



Stay tuned for Part 2: Searches.”

*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at two Writers’ Police Academy events in North Carolina. Many thanks to Lee Lofland for organizing the annual events, and to the members of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department for their informative presentations.




KN, p. 222 “Underwater Evidence and Body Recovery: Lakes and Bodies of Water” Read More »

Scroll to Top