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'Electrical currents are invisible' | TN officials urge caution when boating or swimming

A mother who lost her son when he drowned from a current of electricity shares her story and how she advocates for safety.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Millions of families enjoy hanging out at a marina during the holiday. The sound of water splashing on the coast, children feeding the fish and as they jump on the surface, the ocean's smell penetrates the nostrils.

For many, Memorial Day weekend means the beginning of summer with fishing and swimming but those activities can come with a risk. The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance urges extra caution around marinas to avoid a potential tragedy.

Jessica McClure's world was turned upside down when she received a phone call on July 4, nine years ago. The fun of hanging at a marina suddenly turned into a nightmare. 

"Noah died July 4, 2012, at German Creek Marina. He was swimming near the boat, dark swimming in the water and the water became electrified," McClure said. "He was... fun-loving. He wore me out, he was always looking for fun but he also had a good heart. He... seized the day, he wanted to play all the time."

After she lost her son, she began advocating for safety. 

In 2014, McClure helped pass the Noah Dean and Nate Act into law. She said while she wasn't at the time aware of what she needed to do, her husband helped walked her through it. 

She went to Nashville to speak in front of the Tennessee representatives and within six months the act was signed into law. It went into effect the following year. McClure said the challenge was going through the loss of her child. 

"I keep his pants in my hall, cause it just, I can remember how tall he was," McClure said. "Thinking about his last thoughts, you know, did he hurt? Did he cry? Did he want for us? Did he even know what was going on?"

Credit: Chrissa Loukas
Nate on the left and Noah on the right.

Electricity can leak into the water from a boat or a marina, according to Kevin Walters, the communications director for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, which includes the Tennessee State Fire Marshal's Office. Electricity could come from a power source, either on a boat, from the battery of a boat or from the marina.

With the holiday weekend coming up, officials are urging consumers who are going to be out on Tennessee's lakes, rivers and waterways to always use care whenever they are swimming or boating. 

The Tennessee State Fire Marshal's Office inspects the marinas across the state as part of the Nate and Noah Dean Act. This inspection occurs every five years and it's up to the boat owners to maintain and adhere to the regulations. 

"We want to remind consumers who are going to be on the water and again at marinas into boating or swimming around them to always take great care whenever they are doing that," Walters said. "We want to help consumers avoid the potential tragedy that could occur with electric shock drowning."

Yet, if someone is in danger and is drowning because of an electrical current, the most important rule Walters gave was not to jump in to save that person. 

When McClure's son was in the water, she said if someone tried to grab him and help him out of the water, they would also get electrocuted.

"Don't jump in, first of all, you call 911," Walters said. "You need to shut off the power source that's electrifying the water. Then get that life preserver to the person who's drowning."

Walters said they want consumers to know that the Fire Marshal's Office is committed to safety at home and on the water. To report a violation or if you know of someone potentially putting the public at risk, you can file a complaint with their office.

As for Noah's mother, she said it's important to educate the public and her nightmare has now turned into a dream to honor her son by spreading the word to other states as well. 

"I'd love to speak to other states and let other states know that this is a danger, this can happen," McClure said. "He died, but we're going to do something about it. We're going to try to help." 


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