TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) – Police say two women found dead in a lake in Alabama may have been electrocuted.
Authorities held a news conference Monday to discuss the deaths of 34-year-old Shelly Darling and 41-year-old Elizabeth Whipple. They were found dead early Saturday in Lake Tuscaloosa.
Homicide Capt. Kip Hart says an investigator was shocked during an initial search at the scene, so authorities know there was electricity going through at least part of a dock where the women had gone to sunbathe.
But Hart says officers are waiting on a full report from a medical examiner to determine exactly what happened.
The two were found dead after relatives reported them missing. Family found the women’s belongings on the dock, but the women were missing.
Authorities say foul play isn’t suspected.
By Stephanie Taylor Staff Writer
Authorities are investigating the possibility that two women suffered electrical shocks before their bodies were found in Lake Tuscaloosa on Friday.
One of the police officers involved in the search for Shelly Darling and Liz Whipple was shocked by a current on the dock where the women had been sunbathing Friday, said Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit assistant commander Capt. Kip Hart. The officer wasn’t injured, but he may have discovered what caused the women to drown.
“At this time, we still do not have a clear understanding of what happened,” Hart said Monday morning. Investigators were back at the dock Monday to examine whether electricity played a part, he said.
Darling, 34, and Whipple, 41, went to the lake on Friday, he said. Darling’s husband, assistant athletics director for the University of Alabama, contacted police when his wife didn’t return home by dinnertime.
Officers searched overnight and located the women’s bodies during the early morning hours Saturday.
Both women worked for legal clinics at the University of Alabama School of Law. Whipple was interim director for the school’s domestic violence clinic and Darling worked with the elder law clinic.
“These two young ladies were very involved in the community, and obviously touched a lot of people’s lives with their jobs,” Hart said. “I feel for their families right now and hope we’re able to find some answers as to why this happened.”
A Tuscaloosa orthodontist died in August 2015 after he was shocked. Dr. Eric Hughes, 37, had gone swimming in the lake after cutting his grass one afternoon. His friends found him in about four feet of water near his pontoon boat. Investigators believe that he was shocked before he drowned.
The Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association discourages swimming around boats, docks and marinas that use AC electrical power for boats, electrical outlets, lighting, boat lifts or other purposes. The organization’s position is that swimming around those areas should be prohibited, with “no swimming” signs posted and facility monitoring.
ESD happens when a typically low-level AC current passes through the body with enough force to cause skeletal and muscular paralysis. Victims are unable to help themselves, and eventually drown.
Electric shock drowning can occur in any location where electricity is provided near water, but the majority of drownings have happened in public and private marinas and docks, according to the ESD Prevention Association. Children are often victims, according to the association.
The ESDA recommends that people have their boats and facilities inspected by certified electricians. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and American Red Cross also warn that ESD can occur around pools, hot tubs and spas.
Hart said that people should routinely check their boat houses, piers or docks with electricity.
“Make sure it’s inspected and up to code so we don’t have this happen again,” he said.
What is electric shock drowning? Family of teen killed in Alabama lake warns about shock danger
By Ashley Remkus | firstname.lastname@example.org
April 18, 2017 at 2:03 PM
Nearly a year after a 15-year-old Alabama girl was killed by electric shock drowning, two women died in Lake Tuscaloosa this past weekend.
Shelly Darling, 34, and Elizabeth Whipple, 41 were found dead in the lake early Saturday morning after they were reported missing by family members. While authorities suspect electric shock may have caused Darling and Whipple to drown, an official cause of death won't be named until the Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit receives an initial autopsy report from a state forensic lab. Capt. Kip Hart said he hopes to release an official cause of death later today.
Electrocution possibly caused deaths in Lake Tuscaloosa
Investigators "are not 100 percent sure" electricity caused the deaths.
About a year before Darling and Whipple died, Carmen Johnson, a 15-year-old Priceville High School cheerleader drowned after being electrocuted at her family's boat dock on Smith Lake in Winston County on April 16, 2016. Since then, Carmen's parents, Casey and Jimmy Johnson, have made it their mission to educate the public about electric shock drowning. The family lives in Morgan County but enjoys spending free time at the lake house.
Carmen Johnson was killed by electric shock drowning at her family's lake home in Winston County on Smith Lake in 2016. Since then, her family has worked to educate the public about electric shock drowning.Facebook
"We don't want anyone else to go through what we've experienced," Casey Johnson told AL.com. "We could just not talk about it. But, we know Carmen would want us to talk about this and save another life."
The Johnsons and friends were at the family's lake home in Winston County when Carmen and her friend Reagan Gargis dove into the water on April 16, 2016. Seeing the ladder wasn't down for the girls to climb out of the water, Jimmy Johnson placed it in the lake.
Soon the father heard the girls cry for help and jumped in the lake hoping to save them. His son Zach also jumped in to help but they, too, were being shocked by an electric current that was transferring into the water through the metal ladder.
Jimmy Johnson, who works in electronic repairs, realized they were being shocked and managed to shout for his wife to cut the power to the dock. But, Carmen Johnson didn't survive.
"If my husband hadn't went into the water, we wouldn't have known what was going on," Casey Johnson said. Because electric shock drowning typically doesn't leave visible proof on victims' bodies, it's unlikely anyone would have known about the electrocution if others hadn't been in the water and felt the shock. The electrocution can paralyze swimmers, making it difficult for them to get out of the water.
The current that shocked Carmen Johnson was caused by water seeping into a light switch box at the family's dock, according to her mother. When the metal ladder was put in the water, the electrical current from the switch traveled through the dock, down the ladder and into the water.
"I think when Reagan touched the ladder and Carmen grabbed Reagan's legs trying to pull herself up, she got the full force of the current," Casey Johnson said.
The story of Carmen's death made national news, including a segment on the TODAY Show. Her parents suggest these tips for ensuring safety while swimming near boat docks:
Check wiring often -- even a couple of times each year. Something as simple as a round of bad weather can cause damage.
Make sure there's a ground fault breaker at the dock
Anyone who feels tingles or shocks while swimming, should move away from the dock, not toward it.
Know where the power cutoff is and make sure others outside the water know, too
Plastic or wooden ladders are preferable, rather than metal or aluminum ones
"It can be any moment, anywhere that something happens," Casey Johnson said. "We have heard from several people about how they lost family members to electric shock drowning."
Jimmy and Zach Johnson and Gargis survived the incident and haven't experienced any problems since, Casey Johnson said.
The number of people who drown as a result of electrocution is difficult to track because death reports seldom name electrocution as a factor in drowning fatalities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 3,000 people typically drown each year in the United States, the CDC reports. It is unclear how many of those drownings are caused by electric shock.
Authorities suspect electric shock played a role in the deaths of Darling and Whipple because an investigator was shocked during the search Saturday. Hart said other members of the search crew reported seeing a spark from the shock. The investigator was not injured.
Family members found the Darling and Whipple's belongings on the dock and called police to report them missing.
Whipple was the interim director of the domestic violence clinic at the University of Alabama School of Law.
Darling, a native of Vestavia Hills, was a clinic staff attorney at the University of Alabama School of Law.
Autopsy shows 2 lawyers found dead in Lake Tuscaloosa were electrocuted
Shelly Darling and Elizabeth Whipple were found dead Saturday, April 15, 2017, in Lake Tuscaloosa. ( )
updated April 19, 2017 at 11:31 AM
Two women who died in Lake Tuscaloosa last weekend were electrocuted, authorities announced Wednesday morning.
The Friday deaths of Shelly Darling, 34, and Elizabeth Whipple, 41, have been ruled accidental, Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit Capt. Kip Hart said. The final autopsy report will not be available until all tests are completed, he said.
Darling and Whipple were found dead in Lake Tuscaloosa early Saturday morning after they were reported missing by family members. Hart said a Tuscaloosa investigator was shocked during the initial search at the scene on Saturday but was not injured. "We know there was electricity going through at least part of the pier," he said at a Monday press conference. "We're waiting on full report from medical examiner to determine exactly what happened."
Electrocution has been suspected as the cause of death. Authorities said they know a current was running through the dock, but are still waiting on a report from the city inspector.
Electrocution ruled as cause of death in Lake Tuscaloosa incident
Whipple was the interim director of the domestic violence clinic at the University of Alabama School of Law. Darling, a native of Vestavia Hills, was a clinic staff attorney at the University of Alabama School of Law.
The Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit was called to the 15000 block of West Winds Drive in Northport on Lake Tuscaloosa at around 12:30 a.m. to the report of a possible drowning. Hart said Darling's family members called police when she didn't return home for dinner.
Darling's husband told police he last saw his wife at 8 a.m. Friday when he left to play golf. He told police that his wife and Whipple were going to the family lake house to sunbathe that morning.
Family found the women's belongings on the dock, but the women were missing. That's when family members called Tuscaloosa police. A dive team and lake patrol searched the lake. The bodies of women were found in the lake at around 4:30 a.m.
Darling graduated Summa Cum Laude from The University of Alabama with a bachelor's degree in both communications and marketing. While in college, she was a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority, according to her obituary.
She and her husband, Chris, lived briefly in Washington D.C. where she obtained her law degree from George Washington University. "Shelly will be remembered for her quick wit, creative spirit, and tender, loving heart for all of God's creatures,'' her obituary reads. "She. Was. Awesome."
Darling's funeral will be held Thursday at 1 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church in Tuscaloosa.
Efforts to obtain funeral information for Whipple weren't immediately successful. Tuscaloosa authorities plan to release more information about the deaths later this morning.