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Patrols plea for safety on local waters

By LEWIS SPEARMAN
NORTHEAST HARRIS COUNTY – Seven drownings on Lake Houston and the San Jacinto River this summer, while certainly not a record, are prompting authorities to attract public notice of some dangerous realities related to fishing, boating and mostly swimming.
Authorities say only two of those drownings were related to alcohol and all but one were in the San Jacinto. In 2009 and 2007, 3 drowned, 1 intoxicated; all were adults. In 2008 four drowned, two children and 2 male adults; only one was intoxicated. In 2006 11 drowned.

Anticipating thousands of people visiting the areas on Labor Day Weekend, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference on Sept. 3 at Love’s Marina concerning not “underestimating the powers and dangers of the open water, especially factoring in the heat, fatigue and the need for safety,” said Media Spokesperson Christina Garza.
Major Martin O’Brien summarized, “Most people underestimate the power of the water and overestimate their ability to swim.”
Chief Kevin Maples, of the Reserve Command stated, “Drownings are silent, they occur especially without strong swimming ability and in as little as 4 feet depth. The water depths along the San Jacinto River can be extremely deceiving and when you add the heat, fatigue and sometimes drinking, that is when tragedies strike. Proper swimming attire, bathing suits, are important, regular street clothes will weigh you down. Operation Share Responsibility is still in full force, there will be no drinking and driving of watercrafts, I would ask the public to use common sense to be aware of their surroundings and be sure that their children are supervised. When many people gather, too often each believes that someone else is watching the children.”
According to Captain Denise O’Leary a lot of the drownings have to do with the lack of swimming ability, and with many in attendance it is easy to get distracted. One grandmother drowned this year. About 70% are adults. The drowning process occurs between 20 and 60 seconds. He encouraged parents to teach their children to swim at an early age. None of this year’s water tragedies were boating related. About 20% were alcohol related.
Captain O’Leary said, “Most of the people we run into here tell us that this is the first time they have been here. We recommend that anyone in a new swimming area make themselves familiar with that swimming area before playing. The water depths here change constantly when the dam opens up north of here. We have different sandbars and soil gets eroded very quickly. You can be standing in 5 feet of water and the next thing 20 feet of water.”
State Game Warden Tim Holland of Texas Parks and Wildlife said, “There is a misconception that, ‘I can’t drown because I can swim.’ These waters have currents, if you sit in one spot too long you are going to move. Many times people panic. Often many see someone flailing and think they are waving. They may actually be drowning. The best you can do when you see something like that is to ask, ‘Are you alright’.”
Leaping from the bridge one can strike the water with their side and get the wind knocked from their bodies. There is a rope under the Crosby Freeway that swings out into boating lane where vision is obstructed, it is not recommended to swing there.
The Marine Division started back in 1956 in the days of Buster Kern. There are about 50 people using Sheriff’s equipment on volunteer time. There are three black water certified divers in the division.