Printed on: September 05, 2012

Investigation of electrocution deaths continues

By Ruth Brown
rbrown@postregister.com

Six days after three Blackfoot residents died, officials still haven't determined what caused water in an irrigation ditch to become electrified.

Several different agencies continued investigation Tuesday into the electrocutions. Officials hope to narrow down the cause by the end of today.

Bingham County Sheriff Dave Johnson said his investigators, as well as state and private investigators and the Idaho Power Company, continue to review the deaths. He estimated at least eight people are actively investigating the incident.

Jacquelyn "Jackie" Poulson, 31; Lance Hicks, 41; and Keith Tarpley, 49, died in succession after entering a Bingham County irrigation ditch Thursday. The water in the ditch had been electrified.

Investigators still are trying to determine how the water became charged with electricity.

Johnson said while a nearby irrigation pump was the source of the charge, the reason for it appears to be the main flow of electricity from an electrical transformer, about 150 to 200 feet away from the pump.

The transformer leads to an electrical box that charges the irrigation pump, Johnson said.

Power to that irrigation pump has been shut off, but all other pumps using the ditch continue to receive power. Johnson said there doesn't appear to be any danger elsewhere.

Idaho Power spokeswoman Lynette Berriochoa said she was unsure as to whether the transformer is the responsibility of the property owner or the power company.

The irrigation pump, however, is private property and Idaho Power does not regulate it nor is the company liable for the pump, she said.

"Where the incident occurred is beyond the electricity's point of delivery," Berriochoa said.

Idaho Power officials still are trying to understand how the incident occurred, she said.

The irrigation ditch is part of Bingham County's irrigation system. The water comes from a neighboring canal. Several property owners use the irrigation ditch.

Johnson said no criminal charges had been filed Tuesday.

Berriochoa did not know of any pending lawsuits against Idaho Power regarding the incident.

The tragedy is the second irrigation ditch electrocution accident in about a year.

In July 2011, Lisa Warwick died while soaking in an irrigation ditch in Bingham County. Investigators determined the ditch had been electrified due to faulty wiring in an irrigation pump, according to previous reports.

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