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Topaz Lake Drownings Highlights Importance of Floatation Devices

Last Monday, it was reported that two bodies were recovered near Topaz Lake, which is on the California-Nevada border southeast of Carson City. Both victims were men from the Sparks, Nevada area, who had drowned over the weekend in a boating accident. They were later identified as Bert Pederson (45 years old) and Jesse Gregory (50 years old). A third man, Scott Wise, survived the accident, and was treated and then released from the Carson Valley Medical Center. [1]

According to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the incident occurred when a boat carrying the three men capsized. The cause of the accident remains under investigation by the Nevada Department of Wildlife. It is not clear whether weather, alcohol, or a mechanical malfunction – or some combination of those factors – played a key part in the accident. What is clear is that the two men who died drowned while trying to reach the shore. Wise, the one survivor, clung to the vessel to await rescue. The campground and park surrounding the lake will remain closed while the investigation is ongoing. [2]

This tragedy represents the third drowning incident at this lake in the last seven years. [3] Several Nevada agencies worked together to recover the bodies: Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Marine 7 and search and rescue (SAR) units, Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Specialized Vehicle Unit and HASTY dive team, and wardens from the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW). Peterson’s body was recovered first; Gregory’s body was recovered later at a depth of 22 feet. [4]

A similar incident occurred this summer at Lake Mead, near Las Vegas. Seventeen people needed to be rescued on the morning of Sunday, June 24, 2018, with eight of them being plucked directly from the water. There were no deaths, but the incident prompted the National Weather Service and Lake Mead rangers to reconsider their weather warnings. There were high winds that day, with wind speeds between 30 and 38 mph. However, despite the windy weather, there was no wind warning for boaters. The incident was likely caused by a combination of an overfull boat and hazardous weather conditions. [5]

In the wake of the recent drowning deaths at Topaz Lake, NDOW is encouraging boaters to wear life vests, which none of the drowning victims were wearing at the time of the incident. According to NDOW, when an individual is submerged in cold water, they quickly lose control of their hands, arms, and legs. This means that drowning is a real possibility, even for experienced swimmers. The temperature of the water at Topaz Lake on the day of the accident was in the low 40s. It would have been nearly impossible for any of the men to swim to shore, even though it was only 150-200 yards away. Wise, the lone survivor, avoided drowning by clinging to the capsized boat. [6]

Drowning accidents are a big problem in the United States. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2005 and 2014 there was an average of 3,536 deaths from unintentional drowning annually in the United States. In addition to these drownings, there was an average of an additional 332 deaths related to boating accidents each year. Even non-fatal submersion accidents can be serious and can result in long-term brain damage and disability. One of the most devastating drowning facts offered up by the CDC is that, out of every five drowning deaths each year, one is a child under the age of 14. [7]

Looking at drowning from a global perspective, the numbers are even more harrowing. In 2012 alone, approximately 372,000 people died from drowning, making it the third-leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths. Drowning is one of the top five causes of death for young people in nearly 50 countries. In Bangladesh, drowning is the cause of death for 43 percent of children between the ages of one and four years-old. In China, it is the leading cause of injury-related death in this age group. [8]

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 85 percent of drowning victims from boating accidents were not wearing a life vest or floatation device at the time of their accident. Boating safety advocates recommend that every individual on a boat wear a floatation device at all times – regardless of age, health, or weather conditions. Boating accidents happen quickly and rarely leave enough time for passengers to seek out and put on appropriate floatation devices. [9] If a boating accident were to occur, you would want to already have a life jacket on and properly fitted.

There is a variety of life jackets available for purchase that will suit the needs of diverse passengers and various activities. There are life jackets for adults, children, and even dogs. Some life jackets inflate when you hit the water, making them lower-profile for use on a boat. The most important consideration when choosing a life jacket is to make sure that you are wearing one at all times and that it is fitted properly to your body. Make sure you dry your life vest properly after each use and check it for tears before heading out on a boat. [10]

If, despite taking reasonable precautions, you or someone close to you is injured in a boating accident, make sure you contact a personal injury attorney to understand your rights as an injured party.











Image Credit: Patrick Nouhailler via Wikipedia Commons

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