I first used this space to talk about the importance of life jackets and water safety back in 2016. That’s when a charity I actively support – the Aaron Peters Water Safety fund – set up a free life jacket kiosk in Gresham’s Oxbow Park, near the Sandy River. The fund is named for a 13-year-old boy who drowned in the Sandy River in 2015. It seeks to prevent similar tragedies by making life vests easily available for free to anyone wanting or needing to borrow one.
Sadly, The Oregonian, this week, brings word of another tragedy on the river. The newspaper reports that “the body of a 15-year-old boy who disappeared while wading… in the Sandy River at Oxbow Regional Park was recovered” on Monday. The paper quotes a spokesman for the Gresham fire department who “said the teen was wading in about knee-deep water when he went under at a drop-off in the river.”
This tragedy is a reminder on several levels of just how easily and how quickly something can go wrong around the water. The fact that the victim was not a small child but, rather a teenager, and that the fatal accident began in water that was only knee-deep are troubling reminders that even situations that seem simple and safe can quickly turn deadly. It is especially tragic that the accident took place close to an Aaron Peters Fund safety kiosk. As the TV station KGW noted in a report (see link below) the kiosk is still in place and is being properly maintained and stocked.
Statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control show that on average more than 350 people drown each year in non-boating accidents. “About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger,” the agency notes (see link below). It adds: “for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.”
Many of these deaths could have been prevented if the victim was simply wearing a life jacket. That is why Safekids, an organization that regular readers know I have long supported, recommends that all children wear life vests around open or flowing water. The incident in Gresham highlights the special danger rivers pose.
As a Portland attorney who has long worked to help families dealing with pain and stress in the wake of accidents like these, I urge everyone to take a few minutes to click on the links at the bottom of this blog. Even if you are a strong swimmer, or an experienced water enthusiast simple mistakes can lead to serious injury or death in the blink of an eye. The good news is that equally simple precautions can prevent many potential tragedies. With summer in full swing and the Labor Day holiday weekend almost upon us, it is advice worth considering.