The parents of a 15-year-old girl who died from an electric shock drowning in 2016 are warning others about the dangers of the rare phenomenon that took their daughter’s life.
Carmen Johnson was taking a swim in Smith Lake near her family’s lake house in Alabama on April 16, 2016, when the tragedy struck.
“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,” her 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.”
— CBS News Health (@CBSHealth) 20 April 2017
Carmen invited friends along to her family’s vacation home, and her dad saw her dive into the lake from the top of the two-story dock, while her friend Reagan jumped in shortly after.
He quickly realized he hadn’t lowered the ladder into the lake to make it easier for them to get up, so he put it in the water, unaware it carried an electric charge from a faulty light switch.
Jimmy suddenly heard the girls scream for help and instantly knew something was wrong.
“My wife thought [Carmen] had done something to her neck, which paralyzed her,” Jimmy said. “She started going underwater.”
“I took off running between the two boat slips. I looked over to the right where the ladder was and [Reagan] was looking at me like ‘please help me.’ My daughter was three foot under like down to her knees,” he told TODAY.
He quickly jumped into the lake with his son, Zach, but both felt piercing electric shocks.
“I could feel the electrical current and it was so strong I couldn’t swim in it,” Jimmy told TODAY.
He described how he began to black out, but was able to scream, “Cut the power to the boat dock!”
His wife, Carmen, quickly cut the power and Jimmy, Reagan, and Zach made it out of the water, but Carmen drowned and died.
Did you know that it’s possible to be electrocuted if you’re swimming near a boat dock? Don’t swim near boat docks! Learn how to protect yourself and others. https://t.co/R1eIsJMoNo
— TDLR Medical/Health (@tdlrhealth) 5 June 2019
Later, Jimmy discovered that light switch at the dock had become infused with water, causing a strong electrically charged electric field.
An electrical current formed when he lowered the metal ladder into the lake, and the current traveled from the light switch to the ladder through the body of water where Reagan and his daughter were swimming.
“As they were swimming toward the dock, somewhere between the 5- to 10-foot range, is when they started feeling like they couldn’t swim,” he recalled.
Electric shock drowning is a rare phenomenon which occurs when electricity from a dock, boat, pool, or marina enters the water, and people are present. It causes muscle paralysis as the body is shocked by electricity, making it near impossible to swim.
According to the non-profit Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, “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.”
Low levels of electric current in the water can be extremely hazardous or even fatal, since voltage will “take a shortcut” through the human body, experts say, reported CBS News.
Jimmy told TODAY if he had known about the phenomena before the tragedy struck his daughter could still be alive today.
“You just never know when something unpredictable like that could happen,” he said.
“I would never have thought electricity in that big of a body of water would be so strong—strong enough that I couldn’t swim in it.”
“If I would have known this could happen, or heard about it before—I am not sure if this would have happened to my daughter,” he added.