A father who lowered a metal ladder into the water by his family dock thought he was just providing an easy way for his daughter and her friends to get out of the water. However, what actually happened what something far more tragic.
Carmen Johnson and several friends were enjoying Smith Lake in Winston County, AL. They were riding jet skis and swimming around her family’s dock.
Carmen’s dad, Jimmy, lowered a metal ladder into the water in order to make it easier for the girls to get out of the water.
A few minutes later, tragedy struck. According to a local media report:
Jimmy said when the ladder hit the water, it sent an electrical current through the water. He heard Carmen’s friend scream for help. When he peered over the dock, he could see Carmen’s friend clinging to the ladder and Carmen underwater around her friend’s knees.
Jimmy said he jumped in the water to try to save the girls and that’s when he immediately felt the electric current. Before he blacked out, he yelled to his wife Casey, “Cut off the power to the boat dock.”
Ironically, the weekend before, Jimmy had shown Casey where the power cut off switch was located near the back door. Jimmy said if Casey had gone all the way to the other side of the house to the breakers, everyone in the water would have likely died, including himself.
Jimmy said he was able to help Carmen’s friend get out of the water, but Carmen had already sunk to the bottom. He tried himself to dive and find Carmen, but wasn’t successful.
It took divers over two hours to recover Carmen’s body in the low visibility water.
Carmen was a high school cheerleader with aspirations of becoming a cheerleader at the college level at the University of Alabama.
It is believed that an electrical box on the dock that had filled with water was what caused the current to be able to reach the water.
There are devices, such as Dock Lifeguard, that can be installed on a dock with a sensor in the water that will sound an alarm if a dangerous electrical current is detected. The Johnsons hope their story will inspire others to pay more attention and take the issue seriously.
Even relatively small amounts of electrical current in the water can be enough to cause muscular paralysis that can facilitate drowning. The issue is important for both boaters and owners of docks to understand. According to BoatUS in 2012 there were seven electrical shock drowning deaths in just four months in the United States.