Grieving Parents Warn Against the Dangers of Lake Electricity After Daughter Is Killed

Carmen Johnson was electrocuted in the water.

ByABC News
May 30, 2016, 12:07 PM

— -- Carmen Johnson, 15, was a high school cheerleader who enjoyed life, got good grades and loved to be on the water.

It was a terrible accident on the water that took Carmen’s life on April 16, and her parents, Jimmy and Casey, are warning others about the potential dangers.

The Johnsons say Carmen, their youngest child, was electrocuted while swimming in the lake behind their home. Her parents told ABC News that the electrical currents came from rusty electrical work at the dock in their backyard.

It’s called electric shock drowning -- when a current, usually from a short circuit in the wiring of a dock, marina or boat, spreads through the water, and someone in the water is shocked and drowns.

Carmen's father, Jimmy Johnson, said he initially thought something was pulling Carmen down into the water.

“I was in a position where I could have saved her if it would have been anything but electrocution in the water,” her father said.

In fact, Jimmy and his son, Zach, both jumped into the lake to try and save Carmen. They were nearly killed themselves.

“It was instant. It just grabbed hold of me,” Jimmy Johnson said of the electric shock.

Zach said, “It felt like your arm or leg is asleep and it hurts to move, and you can’t move, but it’s your entire body. And you’re trying to tread water but can’t swim."

The two were saved when Casey Johnson ran and turned off the power switch. A friend who had been in the water with Carmen was also injured but she survived.

In Missouri in 2012, Alexandra Anderson, 13, and her 8-year-old brother, Brayden, died while swimming near their family’s dock. Their mother has been lobbying state lawmakers to make docks safer.

Several states are now calling for circuit breakers near the water, and for the kinds of electrical outlets there that can be found in most bathrooms -- the ones that shut down when there’s an overload or short circuit.

To keep your family safe, experts say you should inspect the electrical equipment at pools, docks, boats and marinas at least once a year. It’s also a good idea to get a shock alarm or other similar product to warn people when there’s electricity in the water, experts say.

The Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, a group that calls for better safety standards, has counted 25 of these electrocutions across the country in the past five years.

The Johnsons say local laws never required them to have the faulty electric line inspected. In their daughter’s name, they want that to change.

“There are probably a lot of drownings that happen that could be from this that people don't know,” Casey Johnson said.