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After 4 drownings in 4 days, Utah aquatics community shares message

Posted at 5:31 PM, Jun 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-21 21:14:11-04

WASATCH COUNTY, Utah — With summer heat hitting, the cool waters of Utah's lakes and reservoirs are calling.

Eight-year-old Ren Christensen jumped into Deer Creek Reservoir Monday afternoon. His three-year-old brother Jack stayed near the shore, kicking his legs and splashing around.

Their dad Mike held Jack's hand on the rocky shores. All of them were wearing life jackets (Coast Guard-approved life jackets too) — even Dad.

Mom McKell Christensen says her family doesn't go near the water without first putting them on. It makes her nervous to look around and see other families swimming without them.

"Often I will watch other people’s kids or things like that even say, 'Hey, do they have a life jacket they can put on?'" she said. "Kids will play with my kids, and I think I’m the buzzkill of the beach party. But it's definitely something that's important to me."

Not a buzzkill at all considering that just one day ago, a 72-year-old man and his 59-year-old wife died in that very reservoir, three days after a 17-year-old also drowned at Deer Creek reservoir.

No one was wearing a life jacket in those instances, Utah State Parks said.

Add that to the fact that on Father's Day Sunday, a 37-year-old father died at Pineview Reservoir while swimming out to help his son.

Utah State Parks also reported that on the same day, a 14-year-old nearly died at Jordanelle while playing on a pool floatie and without a life jacket. Witnesses revived her with CPR on the shore.

Christensen said these incidents are heartbreaking for the aquatics community.

"It just it's tragic when you hear about, over and over again, people who are having issues in the water that could maybe be prevented," she said.

Christensen volunteers for the Utah Drowning Prevention Coalition. She said according to the Utah Department of Health, a vast majority of drowning victims — 69 percent — are adults. Thirty-one percent are children.

Over half of child drownings, 56 percent, happen in June, July and August.

An all-too-common thread in drownings, she indicated, is lack of wearing a life jacket or carrying the proper gear.

This also goes for people who jump in the water to help someone else who might be struggling — as was the situation with two of the three people who drowned Sunday.

"Fatigue is a big one, and the cold shock. A lot of times people jump into a cold lake and don’t realize how hard it is to actually breathe," Christensen said.

Deer Creek State Park Ranger Sierra Schaefer described how the environment or medical issues can quickly lead to someone dropping underwater and never resurfacing.

"If the wind comes up, you get a muscle cramp, stuff like that, it’s going to contribute to a bad situation," she said.

Schaefer added that Deer Creek Reservoir is only 69 degrees, and that's just at the surface. It's much colder below that. Hypothermia can become a real concern.

That's why she, like Christensen, said it's important everyone wear a life jacket regardless of skill or experience, and regardless of if they're swimming near the shore or jumping from a boat.

"Out in the middle of the reservoir, it’s even more important to wear life jackets," she said. "We actually encourage everyone to wear life jackets."

Christensen is an expert swimmer. She teaches lifeguarding and knows how to navigate water.

But even then, she explained how she doesn't take chances — especially with her kids.

In addition to wearing a Coast Guard-approved life jacket, she said either herself or her husband Mike always keeps close watch of their kids in the water.

While life jackets are a must, cheap inflatables like water wings or pool floaties should never be used for swimming in reservoirs, Christensen said.

For more information about Utah Drowning Prevention Coalition and for more resources, click here.