WACO, Texas (KWTX) After recording five drownings in open water over the 4th of July, Texas Parks and Wildlife is urging extra caution on the state’s lake and streams.
A report issued Friday by TPWD says the number of open water drownings recorded in the first six months of 2018, 37, significantly surpasses the count during the same period last year which was 30.
During the midweek 4th of July holiday, drowning victims were recovered from Lake Grapevine, Lake LBJ, Lake Lewisville, Lake Granbury and Lake Leon, a TPWD news release says.
Just a little over a month earlier, on May 20, CBS DFW reported Four people drowned during the three-day weekend, a 3-year-old girl at Little Elm Beach Park, 6-year-old Kash Kinney at a west Forth Worth pool, an 18-year-old man at a Melissa Quarry and 39-year-old Mandy Mizzell at Lake Ray Hubbard.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said drownings always spike in the summertime and he echoed TPWD’s message of precaution, some of that aimed at alcohol.
“We see it all the time,” McNamara said, “folks go out on the holidays to party and have fun at the lake and if someone has too much to drink, that impairs their judgement.”
Waco has recorded one, and possibly two, unintentional drownings since the first of the year; one at Speegleville Park, on Lake Waco and one, which is not yet confirmed by autopsy results, following a vehicle crash into the Brazos River.
The numbers provided by TPWD do not include drownings recorded in swimming pools, creeks or rivers.
Nationwide between 2005-2014, there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States, or about 10-a-day, a website dedicated to preventing drowning called Colin’s Hope, says.
About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger.
The Texas Drowning Alliance, a study and advocacy group, says for every child who fatally drowns, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
Numbers also show victims are about 80% male, and African American children ages 5-19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than white children, while those aged 11-12, the rate disparity increases to 10 times.
Drowning resulted in more deaths among children between the ages of 1 to 4, than any other cause except birth defects and children with autism are five to 14 times more likely to drown than peers without autism.
Accidental drowning accounted for 91% of deaths for children 14 & under who have been diagnosed with autism.
“We’re seeing a spike this year in the number of open water drownings,’ said Texas Game Warden Assistant Commander Cody Jones, TPWD’s boating law administrator.
“We cannot stress enough for folks to recognize potential risks and hazards, and know their limitations while out on the water."
“Fatigue, alcohol impairment, and unforeseen dangers such as cross currents, underwater obstructions and under tow, can lead to tragedy.”
In those events the Waco Fire Department has a special unit skilled at swift water and other types of rescues, Captain Shon Cavett, commander of the group, said.
In most cases when Waco fire responds to a drowning call it’s to recover a body, but in some cases the circumstances could call for rescue, Cavett said.
“We are trained in swift water rescues like during flooding after heavy rains, and in rescuing people stranded on boats or in vehicles that drive into the water.
What the team specializes in is rescue, “whether it’s a water rescue or a cave in or collapse or other kind of event where victims have to be rescued,” Cavett said.
Jones reports that game wardens conducted boating safety checks on over 3,100 vessels on the 4th, resulting in 320 citations and 334 warnings issued, among them 11 arrests were made for boating while intoxicated.
“People will get in their boats, whether they’re driving or not, after they’ve had too much to drink and they’ll fall out and drown,” McNamara said.
“Truth is, usually if they hadn’t been impaired they wouldn’t have fallen out in the first place.”
Game wardens also investigated nine boating related accidents, none of which resulted in fatalities.
“Anecdotally, we appear to be seeing more designated drivers out on the water, so boaters are being responsible,” Jones noted.
Prior to the July 4th holiday, TPWD’s Law Enforcement Division participated in Operation Dry Water over the weekend of June 29-July 1 as part of a nationally coordinated boating under the influence (BUI) awareness and enforcement campaign.
Over the three-day Operation Dry Water weekend, game wardens made contact with 7,081 vessels, issued 762 warnings and 680 citations, while making 19 BUI arrests.
“TPWD participates in coordinated efforts like Operation Dry Water, along with hundreds of other agencies nationwide, in an effort to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities we see due to boaters consuming alcohol on the water,” said Jones. “Our goal is to educate boaters as well as remove impaired operators from the water in order to keep all other boaters safe.”