Kevin Ritz of Scappoose, Oregon grew up around the water. He and his wife, Sheryl, were following suit with their own three children as boating was their main family activity. Being experts in water safety, their children were equipped with the best flotation devices available and were avid swimmers.
The Tragedy of Lucas Ritz
In August 1999, the Ritz’s lost their eight year old son, Lucas, mysteriously right in front of Sheryl. His face never went into the water due to his life jacket rolling him face up when his little body went limp yet his death was determined to be a drowning. There was also no water in his lungs. Sheryl had jumped in to help Lucas and their other son swam closer as well. Both later reported feeling a tingling sensation and inability to move freely which they first assumed to be a fear response
Kevin knew in his heart that his son had not drowned but had somehow suffered electrocution. Kevin insisted that the coroner perform an autopsy to prove his theory and was astounded when informed that they have no tests for this type of death. He then went back to the site and tested the water himself with a digital voltmeter. He found AC voltage in the water and traced it back to a docked powerboat with faulty wiring. Lucas had swam right into the field of AC current and was killed instantly.
A while after the incident, Kevin along with two Multnomah County River Deputies, collected data from three local marinas, randomly checking fifty boats. Thirteen of the fifty were found to be leaking potentially deadly electrical currents into the water.
Since losing his son, Kevin has made it his life’s mission to become an expert in this area and raise awareness of the lurking danger to our families and dogs swimming near docks and marinas powered by electricity. He and his former business partner, Andy Tufts are now Master Technicians for The American Boat and Yacht Council and work to keep boats and the surrounding waters electrically safe.
Kevin wonders how many recorded drownings in the past have in reality been electrical shock drownings. “There have been at least sixty needless fatalities and one hundred unwarranted casualties from freshwater electrically induced faults”, Ritz claims. The initial cause of death can possibly be electrocution as the voltage in the water paralyzes a person or dog so that they cannot help themselves. The findings would usually appear the same as a regular drowning with water in the lungs from the person/dog sinking, leading some to conclude that there may be many more deaths brought on by faulty wiring than earlier thought. In Lucas’ case, his mother saw him as he cried out and died without being immersed.
Public Safety For Parents & Pet Parents
Mr. Ritz now travels around the country as the leading expert giving seminars to law enforcement personnel, first responders, and marine investigators to name a few. He is often called out to evaluate situations where there may be a problem of electrical currents in fresh water as well as to investigate water accidents where electrical drowning may be involved.
In addition to spreading the word about electric shock drowning, Kevin is a proponent of a new standard which would require the installation of an Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupter (ELCI) on boats, docks, and marinas. This is a device is already in place in our land-based wet environments such as hot tubs, pools, and bathrooms and shuts down the electrical current if needed.
Kevin’s message to us is to keep our families and dogs out of the water around docks or marinas. He also warned of swimming in the river if you see any sign of electricity near the water or something that could conduct electricity such as irrigation pipes.
Those of us with dogs who love to swim need to be aware of the dangers and warn others.
Author’s Note: I recently had the privilege of meeting Kevin Ritz when he spoke about dog (and human) safety relating to fresh water activities. This story needs to be told and retold. For more information on electric shock drowning, please refer to www.safeelectricity.org and http://www.electricshockdrowning.org.
Join the conversation. Have you ever heard about electric shock drownings?