Investigators: Broken ground wire caused irrigation ditch deaths

Credit: KPVI

Investigators: Broken ground wire caused irrigation ditch deaths


by Jamie Grey

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBJamieGrey


Posted on September 6, 2012 at 10:22 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 13 at 3:31 AM

BLACKFOOT, Idaho -- A broken ground wire was responsible for an electric charge in a Bingham County irrigation ditch that claimed the life of an Idaho State University assistant track coach and two would-be rescuers.

Chris Jensen with the Idaho Division of Building Safety investigated the Aug. 30 deaths of 31-year-old Jacquelyn Poulson, 41-year-old Lance Hicks and 49-year-old Keith Tarpley.

The sheriff's office said Wednesday the ground wire between a transformer pole and a service pole was broken, which energized the ground wire between the service pole and an irrigation pump.

Idaho Power explained in a statement that windy conditions caused a tree to come in contact with and damage both the company's and a customer's electrical equipment. It says that lead to a ground wire breaking, sending a current along a quarter mile stretch of the customer's buried conductor to a pump at the canal where the three died.

Officials say Poulson was reported missing when she didn't return from looking for a family dog that also was electrocuted in the irrigation ditch. Hicks and Tarpley died when they entered the water in an effort to rescue Poulson. Tarpley was Poulson's soon-to-be father-in-law and a volunteer EMT.

"The tragedy here is this would be bad enough if there was one person involved, but for three lives to be taken. We've got three wonderful families that'll be changed forever," Mitch Tarpley, Keith Tarpley's brother, said.

Statement from Bingham County Sheriff

"Investigators from the State of Idaho, Private Insurance Company, Idaho Power and the Bingham County Sheriff's Office , spent the day investigating the scene of the triple electrocution incident that occurred August 30th four miles north west of Blackfoot.

Chris Jensen, Regional Manager Division of Building Safety, for the State of Idaho out of Pocatello advised the cause of the irrigation ditch becoming electrified was due to a ground wire between the transformer pole and the service pole broke. That energized the ground wire between the service pole and the irrigation pump.

Immediate repairs are being made by Idaho Power thus making the irrigation ditch safe for use when all repairs are completed. I would like to thank all those that worked long hours to find the cause of this tragic incident. The families and friends of the deceased have been very patient and co operative throughout these trying times. Our heartfelt sympathy go out to each and every one of them. I would also like to thank my Bingham County Deputies & Dispatchers, Search & Rescue, Blackfoot Fire Department EMT's, that work as professionals in these trying situations."

Statement from Idaho Power:
"The deaths of three Blackfoot residents last Thursday night were a terrible event.  On behalf of our over 2000 employees across southern Idaho, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families of Jackie Poulson, Keith Tarpley and Lance Hicks, and to their community and many friends, in this heartbreaking loss.

Idaho Power has cooperated fully with local law enforcement and interested parties to determine what caused the accident.  Preliminary information from those investigations has revealed an unfortunate sequence of events.  Tree contact, exacerbated by windy conditions, damaged both our and a customer's electrical equipment.  This led to a ground wire being energized, sending current from the source along an approximately ¼ mile of the customer's buried conductor to the site of the accidents.  

Idaho Power holds integrity and safety among its core values.  We are committed to the safe and reliable delivery of energy to the communities we serve. Consistent with these values we will perform a thorough evaluation of this accident, which may continue for an extended period.   We have and will cooperate with all investigating agencies and work diligently through all the established processes for resolution of the serious needs and concerns of those involved.

At the end of the investigation, we will fulfill any obligations or responsibilities relating to our facilities' involvement as part of this terrible accident." 

To read Poulson's obituary, click here.

To read Hicks' obituary, click here.

To read Tarpley's obituary click here.