Haslam signs 'Noah Dean and Nate' marina safety law

(WBIR - Nashville) Tuesday afternoon, a long line of people wrapped around Nashville's War Memorial Auditorium. The line led to the stage where Governor Bill Haslam greeted groups and ceremonially signed one new law after another.

At the back of the line stood Jessica Winstead. Every slow step towards the stage was one to savor for Winstead. This was a victory lap after traveling a tortuous trail that started two years ago with a tragedy.

"We're quite excited. It's kind of a surreal moment," said Winstead. "For a year, I didn't think we'd actually make it here."

On July 4, 2012, Jessica's son, 10-year-old Noah Dean Winstead and his best friend Nate Lynam, 11, died while swimming at a Cherokee Lake marina. The boys were electrocuted when they approached a dock with wiring problems. Noah and Nate were wearing life jackets and adults could see and hear the children in distress. One adult after another jumped in to save the boys, but were paralyzed by the electrical current. By the time the power was shut off, Noah and Nate were dead and attempted rescuers were injured.

"It was, it was tough," said Winstead. "They lived together and they died together. We thought it was fitting that they should be buried together."

The boys' two lego-shaped headstones sit side-by-side in their hometown of Morristown. The deaths were even more difficult to accept with the knowledge that some basic technology upgrades could have prevented the tragedy. So for the last year, Jessica devoted her life to sparing other families a similar deadly shock by crafting the Noah Dean and Nate Act to improve marina safety.

The bill called for ground-current protection devices that automatically shut off the power when electricity is detected in the water. The bill also instituted annual inspections of electrical equipment at marinas by the state fire marshal's office. Finally, the bill made improvements to warning signs to communicate the threat of electric shock at marinas.

"We wanted a bill that would carry on the names of Noah and Nate and would help save people from the pain we've had to go through. I think with this bill we have done that," said Winstead.

Tuesday's trip to Nashville was not the first for Winstead during the legislative process. Early on, the bill showed signs of stalling in committee. Politicians seemed to waver and the effort began losing steam. Jessica knew then legislators needed to hear from her personally. If lawmakers were going to reject the proposal, they would have to do it after meeting with Winstead face-to-face.

After hearing from Winstead, legislators passed the Noah Dean and Nate Act unanimously.

Winstead returned to Nashville on Tuesday to take one final triumphant step.

"Here we are with all the people who really mattered to Noah," said Winstead as she stood with friends and family about to step on stage to meet Governor Haslam. The group then celebrated on center stage as Haslam signed a life-saving legacy in the name of Noah and Nate.

"To see the bill being signed, it's a bittersweet of course. But it feels good because not only have we carried on Noah's name, but we've educated people in the process."


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