With a deadly start to summer, officials urge water safety

FILE - Texas game wardens (Nexstar File Photo)
FILE - Texas game wardens (Nexstar File Photo)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A deadly start to summer in Texas has emergency crews and law enforcement warning of the dangers out on the water ahead of Fourth of July celebrations.

On the first official day of summer, a 15-year-old boy drowned after jumping off a cliff into Canyon Lake. He was one of four people to drown in state waterways last week.

So far, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says eight people have drowned in state lakes and rivers in June. Assistant commander for TPWD law enforcement, Ellis Powell, says many drownings could have been prevented by wearing a life jacket.

“Bad things can happen in an instant,” Powell said. TPWD is sending game wardens from all around the state to patrol the lakes and rivers that see the most traffic on holiday weekends.

“We are going to be out there in force checking for equipment, checking for safe operation and especially impaired drivers,” Powell said. He added boat passengers should also watch their alcohol intake while out on the water.

Powell said, “Keep in mind that the movement of the waves, the heat outside, the effects of alcohol can be dramatically increased.” According to TPWD, 41 people have drowned in Texas lakes and rivers in 2017 and only five were under the age of 18.

“So it can happen to anybody and it happens quickly and often silently,” Powell said. Nearly 130 people died in Texas waterways in 2016 and at this time last year, 42 people had drowned.

TPWD says a safe Memorial Day weekend offset this month’s increase in water fatalities. He recommends people make sure they have the right equipment and that boats are in good repair before heading out on the water.

“Have your life jackets out and available, don’t just stick them under a seat somewhere,” Powell said. A flotation device that can be thrown out into the water to pull in anyone who might be in distress is also a good idea.

“And have a sound producing device on board so in case you do get in trouble or you do need to signal for help, that’s really important,” Powell said.

On Friday, TPWD game wardens, along with state and local law enforcement officers, will start saturation patrols in an effort to crack down on drunk driving, on both the water and nearby roadways.

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