Most drowning deaths in state occur in rivers and streams

Steel Lake Park, 2410 S. 312th St., has life jackets that can be used for free. - File photo
Steel Lake Park, 2410 S. 312th St., has life jackets that can be used for free.
— image credit: File photo

From staff reports:

The Washington State Department of Health reported that recent analysis of drowning deaths in the state show that nearly half of the 100 annual average for drowning deaths occur in rivers and streams.

Snowmelt from mountains can cause unexpectedly chilly water temperatures, even at the height of summer. According to the DOH, "cold water can affect even strong swimmers' muscles and nervous system within 10 minutes, overriding strength and endurance."

The DOH cautions that common sense and situational awareness can avoid many of these issues. Whether wading, floating or swimming, unexpected objects like river debris or underwater drop-offs can cause even the strongest to succumb to the water.

The DOH notes that "the highest drowning numbers are among teenage and young adult males."

Federal Way has unfortunately proven that statistic true, with a number of young men drowning in recent years in local waters. In 2011, Robert Harris, a student at Decatur High School, lost his life in the waters of Lake Tapps. Last year, Prabhakar "Jay" Kumar, a 2012 graduate of Todd Beamer High School, lost his life in Steel Lake, while  Federal Way High School's Tope Akinlosotu also drowned in the same lake a few short weeks later.

In 2013, Federal Way resident Antonio Inocencio drowned at Ocean Shores while fishing.

The state's health agency cautions that "children should be watched at all times when they're in or near water, and non-swimmers should always be within arm's reach."

For anyone who might ever find themselves witness to a drowning, the DOH advises that they "call for help," and then "find something to reach out to them with or throw them a lifeline." If the situation demands a person enter the water, the DOH also advises to "bring something with you to help keep you both afloat."

The DOH suggests that the best way to avoid any danger in the water is to always wear a life jacket. The City of Federal Way provides life jackets at Steel Lake, free of cost.

“We have 40 life jackets at Steel Lake, we offer them on a first-come, first-serve basis. Most are returned, sometimes they aren’t,” Parks and Public Works director Cary Roe said in a presentation to the Federal Way City Council last year, after the deaths of the two young men mentioned above. “We figure if they don’t bring them back, then they probably needed them, so we don’t chase them down too much. We had about 1,200 loaned life jackets this season. They’re getting used, and it’s a program we think is worthy of continuing.”


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