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Originally published July 2, 2013 at 9:06 PM | Page modified July 3, 2013 at 6:19 AM

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Hot weather, cold water and lack of life jacket a deadly mix for swimmers

High temperatures are expected to be in the 70s and 80s through the long Fourth of July weekend in Western Washington, and emergency crews are warning people to be careful around the region’s lakes and streams.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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With three drownings in Snohomish County in recent days, emergency crews are warning people heading out for the Fourth of July to be careful around the region’s lakes and streams.

Temperatures in Western Washington are expected to be in the 70s and 80s through the weekend, but rivers are running fast and cold and lakes remain frigid, authorities said.

“We started warning people before Memorial Day,’’ said Snohomish County sheriff’s Communications Director Shari Ireton.

Local rivers are always dangerous because they are full of snags that can trap swimmers, said Tony Gomez, co-chair of the state Drowning Prevention Network. And even on a hot day, cold water can cause muscle cramps that make it difficult to swim or even breathe.

The hot weather over the past few days has had emergency crews scrambling in Pierce, Snohomish and King counties.

In Pierce County, one man is missing after he slipped from his inner tube Monday near Sumner, during a Puyallup River evening float. The river was running fast and cold because of rapid snowmelt, authorities said, and the man wasn’t wearing a life jacket.

None of the three who drowned recently in Snohomish County was wearing a life jacket either, authorities said.

An 8-year-old boy drowned June 23 while swimming with his family in Lake Roesiger, and a 10-year-old boy died Sunday in the Stillaguamish River at Twin Rivers Park near Arlington.

On Monday morning, an 18-year-old was out fishing with his friends when he went for a swim and drowned in the Skykomish River near Index.

“These are preventable drownings,’’ Gomez said.

Rescuers were able to avert tragedy Monday night when two kayakers paddling the Stillaguamish River, also near Arlington, became stuck in snags. As rescue crews were on the way to help, several others rafting the river became stuck as well. Some were not wearing life jackets, Ireton said.

Before it was over, rescuers from five different agencies helped get eight people from the river, she said.

In all, there have been seven preventable drownings in Snohomish County lakes and rivers this year, Ireton said.

King County, in the meantime, has not had any drownings, but crews have been busy pulling people from the water.

One man jumped into Lake Washington at Renton’s Gene Coulon Park on Saturday to save a boy he thought was drowning. The boy swam to shore, but the man ended up needing to be rescued himself.

And in recent days crews have been called to aid canoers in Kent’s Panther Lake and on the Green River near Flaming Geyser State Park.

Last year, King County had 15 preventable drownings in rivers, lakes or Puget Sound, said Gomez. Eleven of those occurred during June, July and August. Seven involved drugs or alcohol, he said.

Gomez has this advice as people flock to the water:

• Take swimming lessons.

• Swim in areas watched by lifeguards.

• Avoid alcohol if you are going to be in or around the water.

• Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket when swimming. If you are boating, life jackets must be on board and must be worn by anyone younger than 14.

For information about buying a low-cost life jacket, go to: www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/injury/water/pfd.aspx.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com.

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