Spillway safety: New training for first responders following deaths at Palm Beach County spillway

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - The spillway near Alternate A1A and Lighthouse Drive has not changed much since September of 2013.  The families of two people who died in the spillway three months apart met for the first time to share grief and frustration.

In June of 2013, 13-year-old Jeff Rossen Drowned.  Three months later, 23-year-old Lance Duffett died in the same section of the spillway. 

The families say they are devastated.  Both believe the two deaths could have been prevented.

Jeff Rossen's mother, Tracey Ross, said, "He was, he was a good kid, a lover of life.  I mean, he loved life."

Lance Duffett's mother, Rose, said her son was also a good kid. "Almost done with college.  Met a nice girl.  Almost had his job," she said.

Three months apart, they drowned in the currents under the surface of the spillway.  With heavy rains, the gates opened to allow water to flow through.  The gates are controlled remotely.  Beneath the seemingly calm waters, a forceful current was strong near the gate. 

Since the deaths, there are no new signs or fences at the spillway.  The families believe gates, fences, alarms, signs or even flashing lights could be added to warn visitors of the danger. 

"If there was a lever or an emergency button that somebody could have pushed, that gate could have went up, my brother still could have been here," Bristel Duffet said.

Dave Rossen, Jeff's Dad, said, "There is nothing that tells you of the current.  That's what kills.  The fence is not what kills.  The lock is not what kills. It's the strong current."

The Rossen family hired an attorney to sue South Florida Water Management.  SFWM is protected from such lawsuits. 

South Florida Water Management says it has formed a group to analyze and discuss ways to better improve safety at all spillways.  It plays to have a final report in 2014. 

In the months since, Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue crews have conducted drills at the location and spent several days at a water park to better understand how to perform rescues in forceful waters.

"It's going to happen again.  I pray it doesn't happen again, but it's happened twice, and you know, let's just, let's get something done.  You know, just do something," Tracey said.

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