Parents of teen electrocuted on Smith Lake work to spread warning of electric currents near docks

WINSTON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Parents of a teen electrocuted on Smith Lake continue efforts to warn others about the dangers of electric currents near docks following the incident last year.

Carmen Johnson was just 15 when she died in April 2016. Her parents said she was electrocuted from a current coming from the metal ladder in the water.

Ahead of the busy summer lake season, Johnson’s father Jimmy spent Thursday going from dock to dock with his family’s tragic story.

The family filled zip lock bags with safety tips and a flyer with information on what happened to Carmen. Bags were delivered to docks this week.

In April 2017, investigators said two women died from electrocution on Lake Tuscaloosa. Johnson said it’s one of the many reasons he continues to speak out about Carmen.

“As her dad, I want to do as much to bring awareness to what happened to her, because I think that’s what she’d want,” Jimmy Johnson said. “And that’s what I want, because I don’t want anybody to have to go through what we’re having to go through with the loss of our daughter.”

Johnson said water entered a light switch box after a rain and electrified the metal dock. He put the metal ladder in the lake, and said that’s what put a current into the water.

Carmen and her friend were both shocked as they swam towards the ladder. Johnson and his son also said they felt electricity when they jumped in to try and help.

“I think that that’s part of the reason that I’m still here, that I made it out of the water that day is to be able to go out here and spread this word so maybe people will get their docks safe,” Johnson said.

Johnson also tries to keep an eye out for any electrical hazards when he’s out on the water.

He’s urging parents to have their docks checked regularly. Faulty wiring, grounding problems, and exposure to the elements can all increase the risk.

A product called Dock LifeGuard advertises to detect electricity in the water and sound an alarm. Johnson installed one for a friend Thursday.

After the recent deaths in Tuscaloosa, Northport Fire Rescue posted the following tips online:

With the recent drownings on Lake Tuscaloosa it is being said that a possible cause was an “Electric Shock Drowning.” Below are some details as to what it is and some safety tips…

What is an Electric Shock Drowning (ESD)?

ESD happens when a swimmer comes into contact with electrical current. The current – in this case, alternating current (AC) – causes skeletal muscular paralysis, lasting for only an instant, but long enough to incapacitate a swimmer allowing him to drown.

Where does the electricity come from?

The electric current “leaks” from boats and docks into the water. It can come from frayed wires, improperly wired systems or an AC grounding system that is damaged or malfunctioning.

What causes people to be electrocuted?

Electrical current will always attempt to return to its source in order to complete the elecrical circuit. Electrical current is resourceful and will find any way to do that, taking the path of least resistance and most conductivity (anything that will help the current move along its path). The way alternating current (AC) searches for its source is the most deadly for humans because it takes only a small amount of AC to disrupt the electrical impulses that control our muscles and nerves.

How much electricity is needed for this to happen?

Not much at all. It takes only small amounts of leaking AC to incapacitate or electrocute a person. As small an amount as 15 milliamps can cause paralysis, 100 milliamps – or a third of the amount of electricity need to light a 40-watt light bulb – can kill a person in seconds. In comparison, a double AA battery produces 2400 milliamps per hour.

Can you tell if water is unsafe to swim in?

No, but here are some tips that could keep you safe.

  • Never swim within 100 yards of any fresh water marina or boatyard.
  • If you have a boat, have it tested to make sure it is not leaking electricity. You can buy a clamp meter and test it yourself.
  • Have a qualified electrician do any electric work needed on a dock or on your boat.
  • Do not use a household extension cords for powering your docked boat.

If you feel “tingly” in the water, you could be at risk for shock. In that case you should:

  • Have someone turn off the shore power connection at the meter base and/or unplug shore power cords.
  • Tell anyone in the water to swim away from the dock.
  • Stop anyone else from entering the water.
  • If you believe someone has been shocked, reach, throw, row, but don’t go into the water to get to anyone who you think has been shocked.
  • Call for help. Use 911
  • Try CPR on the person; don’t stop until trained help arrives.

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