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First drowning of season at Five Mile

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

A Tacoma man drowned at Five Mile Lake near Federal Way Sunday evening, leading health and safety officials to remind people to be careful at unguarded lakes this summer.

Everett Watkins, Jr., 36, was in the water about 6:20 p.m. when he went under, said King County Sheriff spokesman John Urquhart. A Sheriff Department diver found Watkins underwater and brought his body up just before 7 p.m. CPR at the lake was unsuccessful.

Police don’t know what caused the drowning, Urquhart said. The King County medical examiner conducted an autopsy Monday, but a medical investigator said he wasn’t sure if a toxicology report would be run to see if alcohol was a factor.

Urquhart encouraged swimmers to be careful at local lakes, especially those without lifeguards.

“It was really early evening. There were lots of people at (Five Mile) lake and there were lots in the water. And this guy still managed to go under with all those people around,” he said. “Be careful. There are an awful lot of lakes these days that don’t have lifeguards.”

Two years ago, King County eliminated funding for lifeguards at county lakes, including Five Mile. Ropes and buoys designate the swimming area, but signs warn there are no lifeguards on duty.

Tony Gomez, injury and violence prevention manager for the Seattle-King County Public Health Department, said most drownings occur in June and July.

“Summer just comes on so fast,” he said. “The water has not warmed up. Colder water really has the ability to sap strength. This time of year, it’s a good idea to go to the swimming pool for starters. Do some laps and get in shape.”

In 2003, there were 22 unintentional drowning deaths in King County, according to the medical examiner. Gomez said 12 of the drownings occurred in open water.

He recommended swimmers visit lifeguarded lakes, like Federal Way’s Steel Lake. If that’s not possible, he urged swimmers to wear life jackets.

“They make great life jackets for swimming,” he said. “There are Neoprene vests now that are very lightweight. We want it be like buckling up or wearing a helmet.”

Police and firefighters don’t recommend onlookers try to save a drowning swimmer, especially if they’re not strong swimmers. Instead, Urquhart said, call 9-1-1 right away and “don’t take your eyes off where (the victim) went down,” so divers know where to look.

Gomez emphasized people should always call for help when it looks like someone is in trouble. People who are on the verge of going under don’t usually scream or cry for help, he said. Their muscles give out and they begin to claw at the water or make a climbing motion as they dip under the surface.

He said there have been a number of cases over the years where onlookers thought a drowning person was joking. “If they look like they’re in trouble, they are,” he said.

Because drowning people can submerge their would-be rescuers, resulting in a double drowning, Gomez suggested that stronger swimmers, ideally wearing life jackets, find something that floats and swim it out to the person, using a towel to pull them in.

He said swimming lessons are valuable when the sun returns to the Pacific Northwest and people unaccustomed to the water start jumping into lakes and rivers.

In Federal Way, swim lessons are available at Kenneth Jones Pool (839-1000 for information), the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center (www.metrokc.gov) and a Marine Hills Pool and Tennis Club (www.marinehillspool.org).

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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