Father Warns About Electric Shock Drowning After Sudden Death Of Teenage Daughter

Electrocution in water is more common than you think.

Photo: Jimmy Johnson/CBS

Last week, two women went missing from Lake Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They were Shelly Darling, 34, and Elizabeth Whipple, 41. Both worked for the University of Alabama School of Law at the legal clinic, where Darling was a staff attorney, and Whipple was an interim director at the domestic violence clinic.

The women had gone sunbathing on a Friday afternoon, and never returned to their homes. Their bodies were found at the lake the next Saturday morning. Electrocution is the suspected cause of death.

“We’re not 100 percent sure what caused it, but we do know there was electricity going through at least part of the pier, because one of our officers did receive what appeared to be electric shock,” said Lt. Kip Hart, from the Tuscaloosa Metro Homicide Unit, “We’re waiting on the full report from the medical examiner to determine exactly what happened.”

In the wake of the tragedy, the parents of 15-year-old Carmen Johnson have come forward to emphasize the silent threat posed by freshwater electrocution. Jimmy Johnson and his wife lost their daughter last year while enjoying Easter Sunday last year on the family’s Smith Lake boat dock.

Carmen had jumped off the boat dock into the lake with her friend Reagan Gargis. Her father lowered a metal ladder into the water for the girls to climb out. Minutes later, the girls were crying for help.

“My wife thought [Carmen] had done something to her neck, which paralyzed her,” Johnson said. “She started going underwater.” He and his son, Zach, jumped into the water to save her and immediately received painful electric shocks. Jimmy began to go in and out of consciousness, and yelled to his wife to cut the power off.

“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,” Jimmy told CBS News. “It is something that even people like me now after all these years never had any idea that this even happened.”

Jimmy, Zach, and Reagan managed to make it out of the water, but Carmen drowned. Her father found a light switch at the dock half full of water, which had triggered the electric current when he put the metal ladder into the water.

The Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association reports “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”.

Now, Jimmy Johnson wants to raise awareness to prevent the tragedy that befell his family.

Jimmy’s 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).

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