Mom hopes son’s death will serve as warning about carbon monoxide poisoning on boats

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. — A Green Country mom said she hopes her 9-years-old son’s death can serve as a warning about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning on boats.

A new house bill, named after Andy Free, who died in 2020 after a day at Lake Eufaula, has been introduced to try warn boaters about the risks.

Andy’s mom, Cassie Free, said carbon monoxide is a silent killer and people don’t know it can happen outside on a boat. The CDC says every year more than 400 people in America die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

Cassie Free said her 9 year-old son, Andy, was fun and kind.

“He was that kid that wanted to be everybody’s friend,” she said.

And he loved the lake. Back in 2020, when the family lived in Broken Arrow, the family travelled to Lake Eufaula for a day of wakeboarding and wake surfing.

That’s where Andy collapsed and fell into the water.

“They pulled him up, he never took another breath, he never opened his eyes, we’re not even sure to what level he had any breath of life left in him when he went under,” Cassie said.

Cassie said hours later Andy’s two older brothers, John and Blake, who were 15 and 13 at the time, were found to have carbon monoxide poisoning. Tests on Andy’s body showed that’s what he died of.

“72% of his blood was carrying carbon monoxide and not oxygen and the threshold for mortality is somewhere around 35% in an adult,” Cassie said.

Cassie is now warning people that this can happen on boats, with carbon monoxide building up around a swim deck or when boats are travelling at slow speeds. The direction of the wind can also affect it.

“Carbon monoxide does not have a smell, it does not have a taste, it has no color, no form, you can’t detect it with any of the human senses, it requires electronics to be able to determine whether or not it is present,” she said.

“It’s really like putting yourself in the middle of a horror movie, like there’s this invisible monster that is trying to kill you and you have no defense against it,” Cassie continued.

“All you can do is make people aware that there’s a risk,” Cassie also said.

And Cassie is trying to do just that, championing a new house bill, Andy’s Law. She wants all motorized boats to have a sticker warning people of the risk.

“He was 9 years old, he was supposed to create his own legacy, he was supposed to amazing things...I don’t want his loss to be in vain, I don’t want it to be worth nothing like just this kid who was here and then he wasn’t...Our hope is that from our loss from our child’s life cut short that that other kids won’t have their lives cut short, other moms won’t sit back and cry in the quiet moments...They will have a chance because he didn’t,” Cassie said.

Rep. Dean Davis, R-Broken Arrow introduced House Bill 2010. The bill says all motorized boats in Oklahoma waters would have to have a sticker visible to the boat’s driver, warning of the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning.

“If you don’t know about something, then it can be dangerous, so just having that acknowledgment that when you are out there boating and enjoying and supposed to be having a good time with your family and friends, just be aware that there is something out there,” he said.

“It’s the right time and the right place to basically give out information about the dangers out there and if we can save any other child in the state then I’m 100% for this,” Davis also said.

Cassie said other states like Minnesota and California already have similar laws

On Tuesday, House Bill 2010 passed the House Public Safety Committee unanimously with bipartisan support.

Cassie said it was a bittersweet moment.

“For us it was definitely an exciting moment, we were like, ‘Oh this happened,’ and then you know, you’re also standing here at the same time holding hands and crying,” she said.

Cassie said she hopes the law can be Andy’s lasting legacy, so other families don’t have to go through the same thing.

“I think all the time if we would have had something like this in place I wouldn’t be the one standing here or sitting here telling my son’s story, I would have my son,” she said.

If the bill does go through, The Department of Public Safety would develop and approve a carbon monoxide warning sticker and literature on the dangers of carbon monoxide and boating.

Service Oklahoma would print and distribute it in annual registration materials and shall include the stickers when an application for a certificate of title is made and the ownership of the vessel is transferred.