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Electric shock drowning killed NJ 11-year-old — and it’s 100% avoidable, group says

Kayla Matos
Kayla Matos (In honor of Kayla Matos GoFundMe page)

TOMS RIVER — A family this week is mourning the sudden death of a Newark girl, electrocuted in the water of a Jersey Shore lagoon. But safety experts say electrocution is a common cause of death in the summertime, and entirely preventable.

The 11-year-old girl, identified by friends and family to several media outlets as Kayla Matos, died on Saturday evening when she touched the rail to a metal boat lift while playing in a backyard lagoon in the Shelter Cove section of Toms River on Saturday. Toms River Police said electric current appeared to have energized the equipment, causing the injury. Another girl was electrocuted but survived.

A GoFundMe page has been created to assist her family.

11-year-old girl electrocuted in freak accident while swimming at Jersey Shore

Additionally — a 19-year-old man died on Friday night in a similar fashion after jumping into an Ohio lake where his family’s power boat was docked and plugged in for shore power, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Such deaths have occurred in New Jersey before. Greg Subiszak of Fair Lawn died in 2016 in a Wildwood Crest motel pool when a short in a light post maybe have electrified the water.

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. David Rifkin, spokesman for the Electric Shock Drowning Association, said electric shock drowning is the result of an electric current leaking into the water, and a human or animal getting close enough to cause muscles to paralyze.

“Or it could result in direct electrocution, which is a stoppage of the heart,” Rifkin said.

His group has tracked hundreds of injuries or deaths over the last several years.

“These things can happen in the water near a dock or a boat using electricity without ever touching anything, or they happen when someone reaches out and they’re in the water and they grab something as was the case in the Tom River death,” Rifkin said.

The risk is much more severe in freshwater than salt water, according to a 2013 article by Boat U.S.’s Seaworthy magazine. Saltwater is much more conductive than freshwater — and since electricity follows the past of least resistance, it’s more likely to continue traveling through the saltwater than through the human body in it. In freshwater, a human body provides an easier path than the surrounding water for the electricity to follow.

Rifkin said the best method of prevention is to not swim around things using electricity.

“One-hundred percent of the deaths we have on our website would not have happened had people not been in the water around docks using electricity,” Rifkin said.

The Association recommends swimming 150 feet away from a dock or boat using AC electrical power near the water. The reality, however, is that people want to swim there anyway, he said.

Rifin said that heeding codes and standards designed to prevent electricity from leaking into the water can “reduce the risk but don’t eliminate the risk,” Rifink said.

“The condition of the electrical systems on a lot of these docks and marinas is deplorable. You have failures in wiring systems and grounding systems and ground fall protection systems. I think that one of those probably manifested itself in the death of (Kayla Matos) this weekend,” he said.

Rifkin said that wires also deteriorate faster than those inside a home because they are exposed to the sun, heat, cold and moisture.

To prevent electric shock deaths, the association recommends:

  • Never swim near marinas, docks or boat yards
  • Boat owners should have their vessels inspected by electricians yearly, and boats should be equipped with isolation transformers
  • Post signs warning of the dangers of swimming around any equipment powered by AC electricity

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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