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Man electrocuted after power lines knocked down in South Tampa

Chris Diehl was killed when he stepped on charged soil.
Chris Diehl was killed when he stepped on charged soil.
Published Sep. 19, 2014

TAMPA — The rain had been coming down all morning Wednesday when Chris Diehl heard the boom.

Sitting with his grandmother in the family room of his parents' South Tampa house, he glanced out the window and saw smoke. He walked outside, where flames were beginning to dance between a fence and the detached garage.

When he stepped off a brick path, a jolt of electricity knocked him over. Less than an hour later, Diehl, 22, was declared dead.

A set of power lines along the edge of the home's back yard had fallen, sending a 7,620-volt charge into the ground, authorities said. When Diehl stepped on the charged soil, he was electrocuted.

"He didn't know," his mother, Amy Diehl, said. "He did what we all would do."

Power technicians were still probing what made the lines come down, Tampa Electric spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said. But the inclement weather Wednesday morning was likely the cause. It was, they said, a tragic accident.

"I think he wanted to see what was happening and to put it out," Amy Diehl said.

The family has lived in the home at 3021 W Fair Oaks Ave. for about a year, she said. About five years ago, they endured a severe house fire in a previous home on S Boulevard, which firefighters traced to the home's wiring. When he saw the smoke, maybe he thought the garage might catch fire, she said. He ran out to try to stop it.

"It was just one of those stupid, unforeseen accidents," Amy Diehl said. "If it hadn't been him, it would have been my mother-in-law or one of us."

Amy Diehl and her husband, Paul, were working at their commercial cleaning business, Awnclean. They rushed home when they heard what happened.

The fallen lines sent an electrical charge through everything within several square feet, Amy Diehl said. After Chris fell, no one could go near him until after Tampa Electric cut the power. He lay there for half an hour.

His heart had stopped by the time rescue personnel could get to him. He was transported to Tampa General Hospital, where he was declared dead.

Chris Diehl had recently graduated from Florida State University with a business management degree. He was living at home with his parents until he could find a job.

The morning of the accident, Diehl was getting ready for a day of job interviews. He was a prospect at a property management company and as a career counselor.

He grew up in Tampa and went to Plant High School. He had an older brother and a younger brother. He was dating a girl he had met at FSU.

He loved the outdoors. He knew how to catch a fish and how to ride a horse.

He was never in a bad mood, his family said. He knew how to light up a room with laughter.

"It's not anything I would wish on anyone," Amy Diehl said of his death. "He was a beautiful man inside and out."

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.