Electrocution investigated as possible cause of drowning

By Stephanie Taylor Staff Writer

Authorities are investigating the possibility that two women suffered electrical shocks before their bodies were found in Lake Tuscaloosa on Friday.

One of the police officers involved in the search for Shelly Darling and Liz Whipple was shocked by a current on the dock where the women had been sunbathing Friday, said Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit assistant commander Capt. Kip Hart. The officer wasn’t injured, but he may have discovered what caused the women to drown.

“At this time, we still do not have a clear understanding of what happened,” Hart said Monday morning. Investigators were back at the dock Monday to examine whether electricity played a part, he said.

Darling, 34, and Whipple, 41, went to the lake on Friday, he said. Darling’s husband, assistant athletics director for the University of Alabama, contacted police when his wife didn’t return home by dinnertime.

Officers searched overnight and located the women’s bodies during the early morning hours Saturday.

Both women worked for legal clinics at the University of Alabama School of Law. Whipple was interim director for the school’s domestic violence clinic and Darling worked with the elder law clinic.

“These two young ladies were very involved in the community, and obviously touched a lot of people’s lives with their jobs,” Hart said. “I feel for their families right now and hope we’re able to find some answers as to why this happened.”

A Tuscaloosa orthodontist died in August 2015 after he was shocked. Dr. Eric Hughes, 37, had gone swimming in the lake after cutting his grass one afternoon. His friends found him in about four feet of water near his pontoon boat. Investigators believe that he was shocked before he drowned.

The Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association discourages swimming around boats, docks and marinas that use AC electrical power for boats, electrical outlets, lighting, boat lifts or other purposes. The organization’s position is that swimming around those areas should be prohibited, with “no swimming” signs posted and facility monitoring.

ESD happens when a typically low-level AC current passes through the body with enough force to cause skeletal and muscular paralysis. Victims are unable to help themselves, and eventually drown.

Electric shock drowning can occur in any location where electricity is provided near water, but the majority of drownings have happened in public and private marinas and docks, according to the ESD Prevention Association. Children are often victims, according to the association.


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