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UPDATE: Parks Bureau Deputy Rescues Three in Pyramid Lake Boating Incident

Posted: March 31, 2014 10:40 a.m.
Updated: March 31, 2014 5:14 p.m.
Marine Patrol Deputy Charles Weathers sits in a patrol boat at the Pyramid Sheriff’s Dock on Monday. Marine Patrol Deputy Charles Weathers sits in a patrol boat at the Pyramid Sheriff’s Dock on Monday.
Marine Patrol Deputy Charles Weathers sits in a patrol boat at the Pyramid Sheriff’s Dock on Monday.

Bright sunshine and sparkling waters were an enticing draw Sunday on Pyramid Lake, but combined with gusty winds and inexperience, they proved nearly fatal for three boaters.

Marine Patrol Deputy Charles Weathers was on lake patrol on Sunday when he spotted a safety violation: two adults and a youngster in a kayak, with only two life jackets among them and too much fishing gear on board to be safe.

And while both life jackets were adult sized, the 5-year-old was not. The life jacket he wore showed only the top of his head.

Within a moment, the safety violation became an emergency: a 25- to 30-mph wind gust flipped the kayak over, and the three were in Pyramid’s 50-degree water.

“The high wind gusts immediately blew the kayak away, and the boaters began to panic,” said Deputy Johnie Jones of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Parks Bureau. “The child’s upper body slipped out of his life jacket and was only connected at his waist, causing his head to slip under the water.”

“This water is so cold that it takes your breath away,” said Weathers. “You can be the strongest swimmer, but when you’re thrown into freezing water your first inclination is to take a big gulp of air.

“At that point, all the skill you have as a swimmer turns into panic.”

As he motored over to help, Weathers said, he could see the child’s dad trying to keep his son’s head above water. The boy was splashing around, his oversized life jacket floating over his head.

“But the dad was doing the same splashing around,” Weathers said. “He made his way over to the boy but instead of lifting him up, he was pulling him under.”

“He was having a hard time keeping himself above water,” Weathers said.

The marine deputy reached the child first, pulling him into the boat, and then did the same with each adult.

“I told the dad to strip (his son) out of his wet clothes. We put him in a blanket and placed him in a part of my boat out of the wind,” Weathers said.

Weathers took the trio to the dock, where deputies Dave Gomez and Tim Cherry provided prompt medical attention.

The child, who was shivering uncontrollably and whose lips were turning blue, was treated for hypothermia.

“The kayak was recovered and they were all transported to the Pyramid Sheriff’s Dock, where the deputies continued to treat the child for hypothermia,” Jones said.

“When the dad got his car, he put the heater on and the boy recovered quite well,” Weathers said.

“He told me, ‘Thank you. I thought I was going to drown,’” the deputy said of the boy.

A father of four himself, Weathers said seeing the boy in the cold water “reached out to my heart.”

Pyramid Lake Manager Tammy Rose said boating safety handouts are provided to lake visitors when they came through the gate. When winds are gusting on the lake, small craft are not allowed out.

But sometimes, she said, as was the case on Sunday, boaters go out on the lake before the winds kick up. “One minute it’ll be fine, and the next minute it’ll be blowing like crazy,” she said.

Life jackets can be tested by parents by having the child put on the vest and then lifting him or her from the shoulders, Rose said. If the child slips through the vest, it’s too big.

But that clearly wasn’t done for the 5-year-old, and in the case of Sunday’s accident, “the life vest actually pushed the child under the water,” she said.

The kayak the three were in was only designed to hold two passengers, and an excess of fishing gear was also on board, deputies and Rose said.

The child’s father was issued a citation for not having enough life jackets on board and for his son not having a properly fitting life jacket. He was released on his own recognizance.

Rose urged visitors to Pyramid Lake, and to any other local lake, to make sure they get instructions on boating safety and follow those directions. The worst offenders, she said, are those who have just acquired a watercraft and go onto the water without taking a class.

As for safety gear, most can be purchased at the lake. “We even have life jackets for dogs — all sizes,” she said.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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