Printed on: September 01, 2012

Three electrocuted in tragic accident

By Ruth Brown
rbrown@postregister.com

A friendly gathering turned to horror Thursday evening when three Blackfoot residents were electrocuted in a Bingham County irrigation ditch.

Jacquelyn "Jackie" Poulson, 31, Lance Hicks, 41, and Keith Tarpley, 49, died in succession after entering the ditch.

Water in the ditch, near 330 N. 345 West, had been electrified by an irrigation pump that had malfunctioned, charging the water with 480 amps of electricity, Bingham County Sheriff Dave Johnson said.

"I want people to know that these three people went out as selflessly as they were in life," said family spokesman Mitch Tarpley, whose brother died in the incident. "They were trying to save each other. ... They went out heroes."

The tragic train of events started with a dog named Mabel, which had been missing all day.

Around 5 p.m., Poulson started a fresh search for the missing dog with Chester, another dog.

When they came to the ditch, authorities and family members believe, Chester dove in and Poulson tried to rescue him. Family members believe that's when she died, Mitch Tarpley said.

Sometime later, friends and family started searching for Poulson.

At 9:30 p.m., they called in Bingham County Sheriff's Office deputies and search and rescue officials for help.

Hicks was the first to spot Poulson, Mitch Tarpley said.

"(Hicks) got hit by the water and let out a yell," Tarpley said. "That's when my brother (Keith Tarpley) saw him and tried to grab him."

All three were trapped by the electrically charged water.

It could have been worse.

Kyle Tarpley, 26, was the next to spot the incident. He reached in to help, was shocked and thrown to the ground but escaped without major injury, Mitch Tarpley said.

The tragedy hits Kyle Tarpley particularly hard.

Poulson was his fiance.

Keith Tarpley was his father.

Lance Hicks was a close friend.

"Kyle's lost everything," said Mitch Tarpley, Kyle's uncle.

At least two other people reached for the bodies and were shocked but escaped with their lives.

Johnson said it was amazing the tragedy stopped at three people.

"It's so unusual because it's something any one of us would have done," Johnson said. "We all would have tried to help if we saw (someone drowning)."

Johnson said he could feel the electricity in the canal bank in his feet.

"I've seen electrocutions, but I've never seen anything like this," he said.

Idaho Power Co. responded and shut off all power in the immediate area before rescuers could enter and recover the bodies.

Poulson was entering her ninth year as Idaho State University women's track and field assistant coach.

She was a two-time All-American and Big Sky champion in the heptathlon. She also competed in the Olympic trials in 2004 and 2008.

"Jackie was a wonderful person," said Dave Nielsen, the ISU head coach of women's track and field. "If I had a daughter, Jackie would be it."

Poulson's grandmother, Bonnie Ankrum Moore, said her grandchild's kindness would be deeply missed.

"She tried to take care of the world," she said.

Investigation into the deaths was continued Friday by the Bingham County Sheriff's Office and Idaho Power Co.

Ruth Brown can be reached at 542-6750. Follow on Twitter: @ruthbrown1. Comment on this story on Post Talk at www.postregister. com/posttalk/.