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Everything You Need to Know About Electric Shock Drowning

Photograph by Twenty20

Tragedy struck last month as 15-year-old Carmen Johnson, an athletic flyer on the varsity cheerleading team at her high school, suddenly drowned after lowering a ladder into the lake near her vacation home in Alabama.

The cause of death: electric shock drowning.

While these cases are rare, they're on the rise as more and more technology is brought closer to the water. When small amounts of electricity start leaking into the water, they can shock and paralyze their victims long enough to drown.

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Often, these currants are delivered by the metal stairs leading into the water, but electricity can also leak directly into the water, disabling people as they swim by. The electricity can leak from a nearby pool, boat or a dock, and experts on the topic suspect that numbers will only increase with the increase in technology used near water.

In Johnson’s case, the electric shock drowning was cause by an electric current from a faulty light switch.

Her father told Today how he attempted to rescue his daughter, and was also paralyzed and blacked out. After his son jumped in he briefly woke long enough to yell "Cut the power to the boat dock!" saving their lives, but it was too late for Carmen.

Kevin Ritz, who founded the Electric Shock Drowning Association after his 8-year old son was killed grabbing the metal ladder on a boat in 1999, says these cases are hard to identify, as the electrocution can't be identified during the autopsy. He urges parents to be vigilant, as this can happen anywhere there is water and electricity, even if the body of water is large.

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His tips for keeping your family safe are to use ground fault protection devices on the power sources that switch the power off if there's a problem with the electrical flow, or shutting off the electricity off when people are swimming.

For more information on electric shock drowning, as well as printable brochures you can share with others, families can visit Ritz’s website www.electricshockdrowning.org.

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