Electricity poses deadly threat on Middle Georgia lakes

Devin Powers was electrocuted while swimming near a dock on Lake Sinclair on May 5, 2012.
Devin Powers was electrocuted while swimming near a dock on Lake Sinclair on May 5, 2012. Special to The Telegraph

On a warm spring day four years ago, Devin Powers went for a dip in Lake Sinclair.

Seconds later, the 25-year-old Macon woman started screaming when she was shocked by an electrical current in the water.

Repairs had been made to the dock flooring, leaving an exposed wire.

Although a friend tried to save her, the young mother died at the hospital.

“The ‘ghost killer’ is what I call it, for no one will know when it will strike,” said Tammy Patterson, Powers’ mother, who mourns that her granddaughter is growing up without her mom.

“It’s sad,” Patterson said. “If no one is around when it happens, the death will be noted as an accidental drowning.”

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills remembers another man getting electrocuted when the power cord to his circular saw dropped into the lake.

“We’ve had several of those events since I’ve been sheriff and chief deputy in Baldwin County,” Sills said.

“The bottom line is water and electricity are not a good mix. It’s like a match and gasoline,” Sills said.

The Georgia Power lake dates back to the 1950s when building codes were not in place.

Cheryl Wheeler, the lake resources manager for Georgia Power at Lake Jackson, said new permits to build docks or boathouses on the utilities lakes require safety measures.

“We recommend you have a licensed electrician do the inspection to comply with the National Electric Safety Code and have all wiring underground or be in a conduit,” Wheeler said.

Although the utility does not have inspection teams that can visit all properties, if workers see exposed wiring on leased and deeded lots, they make sure it is addressed.

Georgia Power also posts signs at boat ramps warning of overhead lines that could be an issue for sailboats on the lake.

Homeowners need to routinely inspect dock and boathouse wiring, as damage could have happened over the winter months on seasonal properties.

The hazard can be negated by stringing party lights, extension cords or small appliances near the water to a ground-fault circuit interrupter, Sills said.

‘If you have those lights plugged into a ground fault, when that light hits the water, it will cut off,” he said.

Metal framing on docks should be bonded to connect to the safety ground to make sure the breaker will trip if the metal becomes energized, according to the Energy Education Council’s Safe Electricity program.

The council warns that it is impossible to see if water is energized.

Swimmers need to take immediate action if they feel a tingling on the skin or pulsing sensation in the water.

“They must swim away from anything that could be energized, like a dock with electrical service or a boat that’s plugged into shore power. If possible, swim to shore instead,” Molly Hall, executive director of the Energy Education Council, said in a release.

Electric shock can cause muscle paralysis, which hampers swimming ability.

Only a fraction of the wattage to a 60-watt light bulb can cause electric shock drowning.

The moment you feel a shock, alert others. Try to stay upright, tuck your legs up and get to safety.

Before Powers was electrocuted, a friend tried to intervene and also was shocked.

Experts warn that it is safer to throw the victim a float and try to eliminate the source of electricity by disconnecting the power, if possible, then call for help.

Liz Fabian: 478-744-4303, @liz_lines