Monday, June 19, 2017

THE SILENT KILLER: electric shock drownings

Teen's death prompts warnings of electric shock drowning

Sunday, June 18, 2017 02:00PM

The sudden death of a 19-year-old from Ohio has prompted a stark warning about a devastating danger.

The teen was electrocuted after jumping off of his family's boat into the water to help his father and family dog who were struggling against an undetected electrical current running through the water.

"Once that happened, the wife that was still on the boat pulled out the shoreplug that was connected to the boat and the electric current that was in the water stopped," Sgt. Walter Hodgkiss of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said.

It's called electric shock drowning. It happens when a current from usually a 'short' in the wiring of a dock, marina or boat spreads through the water.

Last year, Jimmy and Casey Johnson's 15-year-old daughter Carmen died after her family says she was electrocuted in a lake. They say the deadly currents came from water in a light switch box that charged the dock in their Alabama backyard.

"I was in a position where I could have saved her if it would have been anything, but electrocution in the water," Jimmy Johnson said.

Several states are now considering changes. They are calling for circuit breakers near the water, and for electrical outlets, which are required in most bathrooms, that shut down when there's a short or overload.

"There are probably a lot of drownings that happen that could be from this that people don't know," Casey Johnson said.

To keep your family safe, experts say you should inspect the electrical equipment at pools, docks, boats and marinas at least once a year. And it's a great idea to get a shock alarm or similar product that warns when there's electricity in the water. 


Parents warn about electric shock drowning after 15-year-old girl's tragic death

Last Updated Apr 20, 2017 1:48 PM EDT

The parents of 15-year-old Carmen Johnson, who tragically died from electric shock drowning while swimming near her family’s Alabama lake house last April, are speaking out about the rarely reported phenomenon after it took the lives of two more local women this past weekend.

The two women, 34-year-old Shelly Darling and 41-year-old Elizabeth Whipple, went missing after sunbathing on Lake Tuscaloosa Friday afternoon. Their bodies were retrieved from the lake early Saturday morning. Preliminary autopsies for the two victims show the cause of death as electrocution, the Tuscaloosa County Homicide Unit told CBS affiliate WIAT on Wednesday.

“I’ve been around water all my life and I never thought that electricity in a huge body of water like that could do what it did,” Carmen’s father, Jimmy Johnson, 49, told CBS News. “It is something that even people like me now after all these years never had any idea that this even happened.”

Carmen Johnson, 15, was tragically killed from electric shock drowning while swimming near her family’s Alabama lake house on April 16, 2016.
Jimmy Johnson

Every day, about 10 people in the U.S. die from accidental drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But electric shock drownings are difficult to track. It’s known as a “silent killer.”

Even a low level of electric current in the water can be extremely hazardous or fatal to a swimmer -- especially in freshwater, where experts say the voltage will “take a shortcut” through the human body.

“There is no visible warning or way to tell if water surrounding a boat, marina or dock is energized or within seconds will become energized with fatal levels of electricity,” the non-profit Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association reports.

In fact, Johnson says, he never would have known what happened to his daughter if he hadn’t felt the electric current himself while trying to jump in to save her.

Carmen playfully jumped off the top level of the family’s boat dock into Smith Lake with her friend Reagan Gargis on April 16, 2016. Jimmy Johnson lowered a metal ladder into the water so the girls could climb out. Minutes later, he heard Reagan scream, “Help!”

“My wife thought [Carmen] had done something to her neck, which paralyzed her,” Johnson said. “She started going underwater.”

That’s when Johnson and his son, Zach, jumped in the water after the girls and immediately felt piercing electric shocks.

“Cut the power off,” Johnson yelled to his wife as he started to go in and out of consciousness.

Johnson, Reagan and Zach survived, but Carmen didn’t make it.

“Carmen was grabbing [Reagan’s] leg and was getting the majority of the shock when I came over,” Johnson said.

Carmen Johnson swims on Smith Lake near her family’s lake house in Alabama.
Jimmy Johnson

Johnson later found a light switch at the dock that was half full of water. When he put the metal ladder into the water, the electrical current from the light switch traveled through the dock to the ladder and into the surrounding water, where the girls were swimming.

“As they were swimming toward the dock, within somewhere between the 5-to-10-foot range, is when they started feeling like they couldn’t swim,” Johnson recalled.

Johnson believes that if his family had been educated about electric shock drownings this might never have happened. Now he’s sharing Carmen’s story as a warning to others, along with tips to help prevent similar tragedies from occurring.

His safety tips include:
  • Use a plastic ladder, rather than a metal one, so it won’t help transfer electricity into the water.
  • If you start to feel a tingle in the water, swim away from the dock, which is where most electrical issues occur.
  • Check all of the wiring around your dock, including your ground fault circuit breaker.
  • Purchase a Dock Lifeguard, a device that detects electricity on your dock and in the water around your dock. (Johnson works with the company to promote the product.)

“It’s every homeowner’s responsibility to make sure water is safe around their dock before they start swimming,” Johnson said. “People think ‘Oh, this is a freak accident. It’s not going to happen to me.’ And here we are now — 3 dead in a year.” 


What every boater needs to know about Electric Shock Drowning.

Photo: Brian Fitgerald

One year ago, over Fourth of July weekend, Alexandra Anderson, 13, and her brother Brayden Anderson, 8, were swimming near a private dock in the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri when they started to scream. Their parents went to their aid, but by the time the siblings were pulled from the lake, they were unresponsive. Both children were pronounced dead after being transported to a nearby hospital. About two hours later, Noah Winstead, a 10-year-old boy, died in a similar manner at Cherokee Lake, near Knoxville, Tennessee, and Noah's friend, 11-year-old Nate Parker Lynam, was pulled from the water and resuscitated but died early the following evening. According to local press reports, seven other swimmers were injured near where Noah died. These were not drowning victims. In all of these cases, 120-volt AC (alternating current) leakage from nearby boats or docks electrocuted or incapacitated swimmers in fresh water.

This little-known and often-unidentified killer is called Electric Shock Drowning, or ESD, and these deaths and injuries were entirely preventable. In just four months last summer, there were seven confirmed ESD deaths and at least that many near misses; in all likelihood, dozens more incidents went undetected. Every boater and every adult who swims in a freshwater lake needs to understand how it happens, how to stop it from happening, and what to do — and not to do — if they ever have to help an ESD victim.
Fresh Water + Alternating Current = Danger

Kevin Ritz lost his son Lucas to ESD in 1999, and he shared his story with Seaworthy in "A Preventable Dockside Tragedy" in October of 2009. Since his son's death, Ritz has become a tireless investigator, educator, and campaigner dedicated to preventing similar tragedies. "ESD happens in fresh water where minute amounts of alternating current are present," Ritz said.

What does "minute" mean exactly? Lethal amounts are measured in milliamps, or thousandths of an amp. When flowing directly through the human body, these tiny amounts of current interfere with the even smaller electrical potentials used by our nerves and muscles. Captain David Rifkin and James Shafer conducted extensive testing of all aspects of ESD for a Coast Guard study in 2008, including exposing themselves to low-level currents in fresh water. "Anything above 3 milliamps (mA) can be very painful," Rifkin said. "If you had even 6 mA going through your body, you would be in agonizing pain." Less than a third of the electricity used to light a 40-watt light bulb — 100 mA — passing directly through the heart is almost always fatal.

Current LevelProbable Effect On Human Body
1 mAPerception level. Slight tingling sensation. Still dangerous under certain conditions.
5 mASlight shock felt; not painful but disturbing. Average individual can let go. However, strong involuntary reactions to shocks in this range may lead to injuries.
6-16 mAPainful shock, begin to lose muscular control. Commonly referred to as the freezing current or let-go range.
17-99 mAExtreme pain, respiratory arrest, severe muscular contractions. Individual cannot let go of an electrified object. Death is possible.
100-2,000 mAVentricular fibrillation (uneven, uncoordinated pumping of heart). Muscular contraction and nerve damage begin to occur. Death is likely.
2,000+ mACardiac arrest, internal organ damage, and severe burns. Death is probable.
Source: OSHA

Why fresh water and not salt? Salt-water is anywhere from 50 to 1,000 times more conductive than fresh water. The conductivity of the human body when wet lies between the two, but is much closer to saltwater than fresh. In saltwater, the human body only slows electricity down, so most of it will go around a swimmer on its way back to ground unless the swimmer grabs hold of something — like a propeller or a swim ladder — that's electrified. In fresh water, the current gets "stuck" trying to return to its source and generates voltage gradients that will take a shortcut through the human body. A voltage gradient of just 2 volts AC per foot in fresh water can deliver sufficient current to kill a swimmer who bridges it. Many areas on watersheds and rivers may be salty, brackish, or fresh depending upon rainfall or tidal movements. If you boat in these areas, treat the water as if it were fresh just to be on the safe side.

Why alternating current and not direct current (DC)? The cycling nature of alternating current disrupts the tiny electrical signals used by our nerves and muscles far more than the straight flow of electrons in direct current. "It would require about 6 to 8 volts DC per foot to be dangerous," Rifkin said, or three to four times as much voltage gradient as with AC. "Regardless of the type of voltage, the larger the voltage, the larger the gradient over the same distance." There have been no recorded ESD fatalities from 12-volt DC even in fresh water because there is less chance of the higher voltage gradient necessary developing with DC's lower voltages.

For stray AC to get into the water, there must be an electrical fault and a fault in the safety ground. (Courtesy David Rifkin)

How does that electricity get into the water in the first place? In a properly functioning electrical system, all of the 120-volt AC current that goes into the boat through the shore power cord returns to its source — the transformer ashore or on the dock where it originated. For any of that current to wind up in the water, three things have to occur.
Electrical fault. Somewhere current must be escaping from the system and trying to find another path back to its source ashore.
AC safety ground fault. The AC grounding system must be compromised so that stray current cannot easily return to ground through the ground safety wire. Any stray electricity then has only one path back to its source — through the water.
No ground fault protection. Any current returning to its source through the water will create a slight but detectable difference between the amount of current traveling to the boat and returning from it through the shore power cables. Ground Fault Protection (GFP) devices, like Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) required in bathrooms ashore, are designed to detect differences measured in milliamps and to shut down the electricity within a fraction of a second. If the circuit does not have one, then electricity will continue to flow into the water.

If all of these conditions exist, then some or all of the boat's underwater metals, such as the propeller, stern drive, or through-hull fittings, will be energized, and electricity will radiate out from these fittings into the water. If the boat is in saltwater, the current will dissipate without doing damage unless a diver grabs hold of the energized metal. In fresh water, 120-volt AC will set up a dangerous voltage gradient that will pass through any swimmer who bridges it.
Finding Out If Your Boat Is Leaking Current

An inexpensive circuit tester.

Figuring out if your boat has a problem requires two specialized tools — a basic circuit tester and a clamp meter — that together cost about $150. If you keep your boat in a freshwater marina, the marina operator should have both and be using them to check the boats on their docks.

To determine if your boat is leaking AC, start by checking the dock wiring. Plug the circuit tester into the shore power cord receptacle you use on your pedestal. The lights on the circuit tester will tell you whether or not the shore power system is functioning as it should. There are situations where those lights can mislead you, but as a first approximation, assume all is well if the circuit tester says it is. If you find any problems, alert your marina manager or call an electrician certified to ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council) standards.

Once you have established that the dock's electrical system is sound, take the clamp meter and put it around your shore power cord. Most electricians use a clamp meter to measure the current flowing through the neutral, hot, and ground wires separately, but we are interested in whether or not all of the current entering the boat is leaving it. If that is the case, the current passing through all of the wires will sum to zero, and that's what the meter will show when the clamp is put around the entire shore power cord. If the clamp meter shows anything but zero, either some of the current going to your boat is entering the water, or current leaking from the dock or another boat is returning to its source ashore through the metal fittings on your boat. To determine which, turn off the power at the pedestal. If the clamp meter continues to show the same reading it did when the pedestal was on, the current is coming from somewhere else. If any or all of the current goes away, then your boat is leaking some current into the water.

This clamp meter shows a 7-amp difference between the current going into the boat and coming out. (Courtesy David Rifkin)

Unfortunately, that's not quite all there is to it. Many of the most dangerous AC loads on a boat, like air conditioning and refrigeration, are cycling loads. A fault in one of these will only show up if that equipment is running when you clamp the cord. To be sure your boat is not leaking AC into the water, you must run all your AC loads while clamping the cord and look for any reading but zero. If you find a problem, unplug your boat and don't plug it in again until you get an electrician trained to ABYC standards to figure out what is wrong and fix it.
Eliminating Current Leakage

That your boat is not leaking AC into the water right now is no guarantee that it never will. Electrical faults and ground faults develop in the marine environment all the time. There are two ways to eliminate the risk altogether.

The first — and best — alternative is to completely isolate the AC shore power system from the AC system on the boat. Then any stray AC on the boat will return to its source on the boat and will not enter the water. An isolation transformer transfers electricity from the shore to the boat and back again using the magnetic field generated by the electrical current rather than through shore wires physically touching the boat's wires. If you want to be absolutely certain your boat cannot leak alternating current into the water, install an isolation transformer.

The second alternative is to install ground fault protection in the boat's and the dock's AC system that will shut off the current if the amount of electricity going out differs by a certain amount from that returning. "The European, Australian and New Zealand standards require ground fault protection on a marina's main feeders and power pedestals," Rifkin said. "They've had zero ESD fatalities in the nearly 30 years they've had this in place." In the U.S., NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 303 (Fire Protection Standard for Marinas and Boatyards) requires GFP devices that trip at 100 mA or lower on all docks. But these devices can be expensive to retrofit and maintain in a large marina, need to be tested monthly to keep them working properly, and are subject to nuisance trips in the marine environment, so the requirements have not been adopted or enforced uniformly at the local level.

The ABYC made ground fault protection on boats part of the E-11 electrical standard this year. Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupters (ELCIs) that trip at 30 mA are to be installed on all new vessels built to ABYC standards, but very few older boats are equipped with them. Companies like North Shore Safety have started to offer easy to retrofit ELCIs and UL-approved cords with integrated ELCIs — these run from $200 to $400. Home building suppliers like Lowe's sell 15-amp pigtails equipped with GFCIs for around $30. Either of these could be used with a shore power cord from a house to a private dock to charge a boat's batteries.Since his son died 14 years ago, Kevin Ritz has comforted dozens of families who have lost children as he has, and he has encouraged them to join forces with him to educate others. His goal is to put himself out of business. If each and every boater takes responsibility for his or her boat, Ritz could get his wish


Electric Shock Drowning: What You Need To Know

In General

  • ESD victims are good candidates for successful Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Learn to perform CPR and maintain your training.
  • To retrieve a person in the water, reach, throw, and row, but don't go.
  • Tell others about ESD. Most people have never heard of it and are unaware of the danger.
  • Make sure your children understand the importance of not swimming anywhere there could be electricity. Don't let them roughhouse on docks. Tell them what to do if they feel a tingling or shock in the water (see below).

In Marinas

  • NEVER swim within 100 yards of any freshwater marina or boatyard.
  • Talk to marina owners or operators about the danger of ESD. Ask your marina operator to prohibit swimming at their facility and post signs.
  • Ask marina operators if they are aware of and following the guidelines from NFPA 303 (Fire Protection Standard for Marinas and Boatyards) and National Electric Code (NEC) 555.

If You Have A Boat

  • Have your boat tested once a year to see if it is leaking electricity, or buy a clamp meter and test it yourself. If you find any problems, have your boat inspected by a qualified electrician trained to ABYC standards.
  • Have a qualified ABYC electrician install an ELCI on your boat (refer them to the ABYC E-11 Standard) or use an ELCI in the shore power cord. As an alternative, install an isolation transformer on the boat.
  • Test the GFCI/ELCI at least once a month or per the manufacturer's specifications.
  • DO NOT do your own 120-volt AC electrical work on a boat or hire an electrician who is not familiar with ABYC standards to do it. Many of the problems that lead to electrical faults result from the differences between shore and boat electrical systems and standards.
  • DO NOT use common household extension cords for providing shore power to your boat. Use, and encourage other boaters to use, shore power cords built to UL standards.
  • NEVER dive on your boat to work on underwater fittings when it is plugged in to shore power, even in saltwater.

If You Have A Private Dock

  • NEVER swim within 100 yards of ANY dock using electrical power!
  • If you have not electrified your dock or put an AC system on your boat, weigh the risks carefully before doing so.
  • If you need electricity on your dock, hire a licensed electrician and make sure the wiring meets the requirements in NFPA 303 and NEC 555. If your dock is already wired, hire an electrician to check that it was done properly. Because docks are exposed to the elements, their electrical systems should be inspected at least once a year.
  • Exercise your GFCIs/ELCIs as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • If you normally run a power cord from your house or garage to charge your batteries, make sure the outlet has a GFCI and include an ELCI somewhere in the shore power cord.
  • NEVER swim off your dock without shutting down all shore power to the boat and the dock.
  • Even if you adhere to all of these rules, nearby docks can still present a shock hazard. Educate your neighbors and work together with them to make the waterfront safe.

If You're In The Water And You Feel Tingling Or Shocks

  • DO NOT follow your instinct to swim toward the dock!
  • SHOUT! Drowning victims cannot speak, let alone shout. Let everyone know what's happening so they'll understand the danger and react appropriately.
  • Try to stay upright and back out of the area the way you came, warn any other swimmers in the area of the danger, and then head for shore 100 yards or more from the dock.
  • Alert the dock or marina owner and tell them to shut the power off to the dock until they locate the problem and correct it.
  • Go to the hospital to make sure there are no lingering effects that could be dangerous.

If You Have To Rescue An ESD Victim

  • Know how to distinguish drowning from ESD (see Alert for how to recognize "normal" drowning; tingling, numbness, or pain all indicate ESD).
  • Fight the instinct to enter the water — many rescuers have died trying to help ESD victims.
  • Call for help. Use 911 or VHF Channel 16 as appropriate.
  • Turn off the shore power connection at the meter base and/or unplug shore power cords.
  • Get the victim out of the water. Remember to reach, throw, row, but don't go.
  • If the person is not breathing or you cannot get a pulse, perform CPR until the Fire Department, Coast Guard, or ambulance arrives.

Apparent Electric Shock Kills Newark Ironbound Girl in Toms River

There is an active investigation underway in Toms River as authorities attempt to find what caused the death of a Newark girl near a boat dock in Toms River.

Exact details regarding the incident are developing and pending the investigation, but according to preliminary reports, emergency responders rushed to the 40's block of Tobago Avenue after receiving reports of an injured child at that location before 8 p.m.

EMS crews arriving at the scene located a female victim, around the age of 10-years-old, unconscious and unresponsive by the dock and immediately began the process of CPR reports said.

The unidentified girl was rushed to an area hospital where she died sometime overnight or early this morning.

Friends of the girl identified her on Facebook as Kayla Matos a Newark Ironbound section resident who attended the Ann Street School.

Sources told RLS Metro Breaking News that Kayla was in the 5th grade at the school and a Girls Scout member, was visiting friends down in the Toms River community when she suffered the apparent electric shock while touching the rail to a an energized metal boat lift.

The investigation is active and ongoing.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Electric Shock Drowning : Shelly Darling and Elizabeth Whipple may have been electrocuted to death while sunbathing in Lake Tuscaloosa in Alabama

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 | 

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 "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.