Wednesday, May 20, 2009

120 AC to 12 DC, an RV, a lamp chord and a child

dumb behavior leading to death This warning sign is unintentionally appropriate to this case. Since I am an investigator, I usually have no idea what an insurance company is hoping to find out when they ask me to look into a case. My job was to check over the location and have the law enforcement that was involved in the investigation to corroborate the circumstances of the accident. I have posted minor details of this case on forums, but here I am providing the account in its entirety. A man takes his family to a Winnebago camping site. After long winter, the engine was a bit hard to start and that caused the battery to go weak. He arrives at the site, hooks up his Winnebago to the site's utilities, and remembers to charge up the battery. Except he is totally ignorant of electrical basics. As he recounted to a sheriff's deputy, he believed that he could charge the battery (12 DC) from the power company outlet (120 AC), because someone told him that "AC and DC don't matter" since "the difference is canceled by the RMS voltage." (not true, since Root Mean Square voltage is only an aspect of AC current). Thus he genuinely believed that 120 volts would charge a 12 volt battery in a giffy. All he needed was a small capacitor converter that "would stop sparks" when he would connect the battery to the lamp chord he had ready. Except he left the lamp chord plugged into the wall socket, and live. One lead was touching the aluminum molding on the Winnebago's Masonite interior. By this time the man's teenage son was already done dipping in a pond that was less than 10 feet from his Winnebago. Barefoot, he stepped onto the metal running board, got electrocuted, spasmed and staggered backwards into the 3-foot deep water, and drowned. When his son had been missing for more than 4 hours, the electricity genius father and his wife called the county sheriff's office. The deputy asked simple questions, retraced the man's story and within 15 minutes found the boy in the water.