TOMS RIVER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — It’s a parent’s worst nightmare — sending a child off to a sleepover at a friend’s house thinking they’re safe.
The nightmare came true for one Newark family, after an unassuming piece of metal connected to a private dock in Toms River, New Jersey became a killer, sending a fatal amount of electric shock through 11-year-old Kayla Matos.
Kayla was spending the weekend with her friends in Ocean County when, without warning, she was electrocuted in the water.
“It devastated me and my wife,” neighbor Paul Seider told CBS2’s Meg Baker. “I just can’t imagine.”
Police say Kayla and her friend were wearing life vests, laying on a raft in the water with adult supervision when she got out and touched a metal boat lift, sending the electric current that killed her through her body.
Toms River Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher tells CBS2 the boat lift was installed and inspected in 2001 — over 16 years ago.
“Her body acted as a ground for electric current,” Kelaher said.
The current homeowners bought the home in 2004, but they do not own a boat and told police they’ve never used the boat lift.
“I guess over the years as a result of the lack of local maintenance, the wire corroded inside the junction box,” Kelaher said.
Neighbor Anne Marie Brooksbank said a lot of boat lifts in the area have gone down since Superstorm Sandy, leaving a lot of wires hanging.
“Some people don’t think about what they need to repair,” she said. “It is not even a thought until it happens.”
A local non-profit named the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association says “there is no visible warning or way to tell if water surrounding a boat, marina, or dock is energized or within seconds will become energized with fatal levels of electricity.”
The town is urging residents to have a licensed electrician check all exterior equipment and circuits for unsafe conditions.
For older installations such as the one in this case, new or additional safety features are available — such as GFCI circuit breakers that automatically cuts off electric power.