Lake deaths down so far

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Denton County sheriff’s deputies patrol boats in “Party Cove” July 6 on Lewisville Lake, near West Lake Park in Hickory Creek.
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Officials say safety’s been high, though water levels are low

Lake-related deaths are down this year, and officials on the state and local levels hope it stays that way.

In 2012, state data shows seven people drowned in Lewisville Lake and one in Ray Roberts Lake. It was the deadliest year Denton County has had since 2008, when eight people also drowned.

Troy Taylor, chief death investigator for the county, said of the seven drownings the medical examiner’s office has investigated this year, only two were at major lakes. The third, Taylor said, was at Unicorn Lake in Denton after an elderly woman fell into the body of water.

Since 2004, 33 people have drowned in the two major lakes in Denton County. More than 81 percent of the deaths occurred at Lewisville Lake, data shows. According to statistics obtained from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 42 percent of the deaths were from boat accidents.

Capt. Kevin Brule said the Lewisville Fire Department’s dive team has responded to only one drowning-related death this year but will be out all Labor Day for the last major boating weekend of the season. At press time, divers were searching for a 33-year-old Mesquite man who was listed as missing late Friday from a two-tiered pontoon boat on Lewisville Lake.

“It’s been a good year, a safe year,” Brule said. “I just hope it stays that way over the long weekend.”

The Lewisville dive team consists of several firefighters trained to be able to handle water-related emergencies across the county, he said.

Ensuring safety for lakegoers is one of the factors officials say has led to the ongoing decrease this year.

The Denton County Sheriff’s Office and other area agencies will be out patrolling county lakes during the holiday weekend as part of “Operation Safe Lake,” and the increased presence on the water this year has helped, officials said.

The county handled 114 boat safety inspections, three citations, seven written warnings, one arrest for boating while intoxicated, one special event and nine calls for service during the four-day Fourth of July weekend — the last big countywide enforcement weekend, Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Randy Plemons said.

In 2012, out of the seven boating accidents that occurred, four people died as a result, records show.

After an accident, state officials say it doesn’t take long for someone to drown.

Statistics show drowning can occur in less than two minutes, and most children who drown are away from their parents for less than five minutes, said Lt. Cody Jones, Texas Parks and Wildlife marine enforcement game warden.

State research has shown that drowning victims usually don’t scream for help or splash around a lot before going under, he said.

Denton County officials said they haven’t seen as much activity on the lakes as last year because fewer boaters have been on the lakes.

The decrease in water levels are a contributing factor, sheriff’s spokeswoman Sandi Brackeen said.

In 2012, both Lewisville and Ray Roberts lake levels stayed above 90 percent capacity for most of the summer, according to Texas Water Development Board data.

As of Saturday, Lewisville Lake and Ray Roberts Lake are 67.5 percent and 80 percent full, respectively.

According to state records, of the 33 drownings since 2004, only three people who died were wearing safety gear.

That factor is not only a local issue, but something the nation as a whole is facing, officials said. Of victims who drown in boating accidents nationwide, 85 percent were not wearing life jackets.

Johnny Peters, a lake patrol deputy with the sheriff’s office, said a life jacket is the most valuable item a person can have when near any body of water.

“If a child is not wearing a life jacket, I will pull your boat over,” Peters said in a recent interview. “They are not only lifesaving for you as an adult but for a child as well.”

MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.

JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.

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