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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. — The Villano family, some of whose members fell over a Duke Energy low-head dam back in June, is now suing Duke Energy.

Nine members of the Villano family were tubing together on the Dan River in Eden, North Carolina when they fell 2 to 3 feet over a Duke Energy low-head dam. Five of them drowned, including 35-year-old Theresa Villano, who was six months pregnant at the time.

Some of the family members were from LaPorte, including 14-year-old Sophia Wilson, who drowned. 30-year-old Antonio Ramon, from Indiana, also died.

The four survivors were hurt. They only survived by clinging to the dam for more than eleven hours, before being found and rescued.

The family’s injury attorney, Kenneth J. Allen with Allen Law Group, says, “The Villano family had no idea … that low-head dams are treacherous. These dams are known as ‘drowning machines’ by those who own or operate them.”

According to Allen, low-head dams are dangerous due to the keeper hydraulics those dams generate, which are largely hidden except to those who encounter them.

Public records say there are 200 to 300 low-head dams in Illinois; 150 in Indiana; and more than 1,000 in North Carolina. Hundreds have died as a result of encounters with these dams; yet, most of these dams — including the Duke Energy dam on the Dan River — remain unguarded.

As a result, the Villano family has filed a lawsuit against Duke Energy, the second-largest utility in the U.S., to hold it accountable, and demand that they modify the dams or eliminate them altogether.