Water Safety a Concern after River Deaths

By: Ryan Famuliner Email
By: Ryan Famuliner Email

It is summertime, so naturally people to want to spend time outside and often near the river.

But after yesterday's drownings, local officials hope Michiana residents will be more cautious.

Most local emergency response teams played some part in today's search and they say it is not something they hope to do again soon.

They say the drownings -- the fourth and fifth this year -- should be an example of why people need to be careful.

Debi Wassaco brought her three daughters to the scene of a drowning so they might understand the seriousness of the matter.

"You can tell your kids as much as you want about the dangers of the river, but they don't understand the velocity and the strength of it. I thought if they saw it firsthand and the danger, maybe it would sink in to them that you do have to be careful," Wassaco said.

And as they witnessed the teenager's body being pulled from the river, that lesson set in.

"The river is deceiving, because of that current … if you're stuck in that current, and you try to swim against it, you're not going to win. The river's going to win, and then you get so exhausted, you can't swim any more," said Paul McMinn, with the South Bend Parks and Recreation Department.

The Parks Department gave us a demonstration on the East Race of how you might get out of trouble once you are in the river.

"The way to do it is get on your back, feet downstream, and gradually work your way to the side by finning on the side," McMinn said.

But those tactics of swimming with the current may not have been useful to the latest teenage victim, who police say was stuck underneath a small waterfall near the dam.

They say that there is really only one way to avoid problems in the river.

"You need to stay away from the water and stay away from the places where you can slip or fall or get in, because if you get in, you may not be getting out," said McMinn.

Authorities hope people can learn without having to learn from tragedy.

"We need to step back and take a look when we recreate, the dangers that are seen and the unforeseen dangers and take those into consideration when you're out in your boats, canoes, kayaks, or fishing along the shores of these lakes and rivers,” said John Salb with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Authorities say if you are going to spend your free time near water, it is best to always wear a life jacket, even if you do not plan on getting in.

They also say wearing shoes with good treads is important. If you are walking close to the water you might slip and fall in if you are wearing water shoes or something similar.

They also say strong swimming skills and adult supervision are important near the river.

With so little rain, some may think that the river is less dangerous.

But officials say it can actually be even more dangerous because the currents are quicker in shallow water.

If the current hits you around the knee and knocks you down, you can be caught up in it, and before you know it be taken into deeper water.

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