Eight-year-old Lucas Ritz was a bright, outgoing boy—the middle child of a water-loving family. He dreamed of one day becoming a boat captain.
His safety-conscious parents, Kevin and Sheryl, made sure their kids always wore life jackets and were closely supervised. Sheryl was keeping a close eye on Lucas as he swam with his brother and friends at the marina one hot August day in 1999.
She recalls, “They went past a boat. … I saw that he was heading to the dock to get out of the water. Then all of a sudden he screamed and rolled (back) on his life jacket. I yelled for help…then jumped in to help him, and immediately I felt like I couldn’t move.”
Sadly, Sheryl was not able to save her little boy. The coroner ruled Lucas’ death a drowning, but his parents refused to accept that.
Kevin began his own investigation, which revealed that a boat plugged into shore power was leaking 120 volts of electricity into the marina water. Lucas was killed as he swam into energized water and Sheryl was temporarily paralyzed when she jumped in to help.
The phenomenon is known as electric shock drowning (ESD) and today the Ritz family is working with Safe Electricity’s “Teach Learn Care TLC” campaign to prevent the kind of tragedy that took Lucas’ life.
They warn water enthusiasts to never swim in marinas or around docks with electrical equipment or boats plugged into shore power
. It’s also critical that boats and docks have proper safety equipment and regular maintenance by a qualified professional.
“Every time we have to go back and think about and talk about what happened, it’s tough,” says Sheryl, “but it’s still happening. People don’t know [about ESD], and that was us 14 years ago.”
National Safe Boating Week is May 17-23, so there’s no better time to prepare for a safe season on the water. Learn more about ESD and see a video of Lucas’ story at SafeElectricity.org