Authorities told Kevin Ritz that his 8-year-old son had died from drowning, but that didn’t make sense. Lucas wore a life jacket with a special flap to keep his head above water, Ritz said, and had no water in his lungs.
Ritz soon discovered that a boat docked in the Portland, Ore., marina where Lucas swam was leaking 120 volts of electricity. The energized water shocked Lucas’ heart that day in August 1999, causing it to stop instantly, Ritz said.
When the Ritz family learned other people were dying in the same manner, they created an organization to inform others about electric shock drowning. With summer approaching, they and national agencies are urging people to stay out of water where a boat is plugged into the dock’s electrical outlet.
“Every year that goes by … it just continues to go on,” said Ritz, 51, who recently visited Chicago to share his story. “Had we been aware of this, our kids would not have been in the water.”
Electric shock drowning has caused more than 100 deaths across the country in recent years, said Ritz, who is a certification instructor for the American Boat and Yacht Council, which develops safety standards for boats. No federal agency tracks the deaths, he said.
In many cases, a victim’s autopsy shows no signs of electrical injury, so it’s likely that more electric shock drowning deaths go unreported, said Molly Hall, executive director of the Energy Education Council, a national nonprofit based in Springfield. And if witnesses aren’t present, officials often stop their investigation and point to drowning, Hall said.
The organization is trying to raise awareness by airing radio and TV public service announcements throughout Illinois and providing videos on its website. The threat is greatest in freshwater rivers, lakes and pools, Hall said.
Read more at the CHICAGO TRIBUNE.