Grand County Sheriff’s Office announces new boat patrol during Mullinex debriefing
As the family of Chris Mullinex and the community of Grand Lake continue to mourn the tragic drowning of the 31-year-old over the Fourth of July weekend, questions have been raised as to why the recovery of his body occurred the way it did and how similar events can be avoided in the future.
Officials from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office conducted a debriefing Monday evening in the Grand Lake Fire Protection District’s offices in Grand Lake. During the meeting Sheriff Brett Schroetlin, Undersheriff Wayne Schafer and Lt. Dan Mayer outlined what happened Friday, July 3, how the body recovery process unfolded, why it took as long as it did and what the Sheriff’s Office is doing to address concerns about safety on the lakes.
Mullinex family members expressed concern during the body recovery process regarding how long recovery was taking and why a dive team did not respond to the area until Sunday evening. As sheriff’s officials explained the process of deep-water body recovery, they acknowledged they had failed to properly inform the family of Chris Mullinex about the process.
“We need to communicate better with families,” said Sheriff Schroetlin. “We made a mistake but we stand up here promising to do better.”
Schroetlin said in future incidents his department plans to designate a deputy as an official liaison between the department and the families of victims to better facilitate communication and to provide families with an official point of contact within the department.
“We are not perfect,” he said. “But we do strive to learn from our mistakes.”
Public Information Officer Lt. Mayer addressed concerns from the community about the body recovery process.
“Many of us were under misconceptions about how diving teams work,” said Mayer. “We were getting an education as we called these people.”
Mayer explained that divers are used only to physically retrieve a body from beneath the water and are not used to actively search for a body under the water. Mayer also addressed questions regarding why the department had not physically closed off portions of Lake Granby with buoys and why certain resources, such as the Summit County Dive Team, took so long to make it to the area.
Schroetlin explained that his department has neither a dive team nor water rescue resources to utilize on the area lakes. The department relies entirely on other agencies and private citizens to respond to incidents on the waters of Grand County. What little patrolling does occur on the area lakes is conducted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which maintains two roving boat patrol teams that move throughout the state all year long.
Private boat owners play a vital role on the lakes for the Sheriff’s Office. Oftentimes when accidents occur private boat owners pick up injured, drowning or otherwise endangered people from the lake and transport them to shore. When the Sheriff’s Office receives non-medical law enforcement calls to Lake Granby, officials typically must commandeer privately owned boats to respond. The U.S. Forest Service also has a boat the department can and does call upon, though officials said it takes a bit of time to actually get the boat out on the water.
Most of the issues raised by the family of Chris Mullinex in the aftermath of his drowning pertain specifically to the recovery of his body. Officials from the Sheriff’s Office speculated they would not have been able to save Mullinex from drowning if a patrol boat had been present nearby at the time he disappeared beneath the water.
When the story of Mullinex’s drowning broke along the Front Range, Richard “Dick” Paquette and his wife June decided they wanted to do something to help. The elderly couple lives in Boulder and had a 1991 22-foot Boston Whaler with a 225 horsepower motor they decided to donate to Grand County in Chris’ memory. Officials from the Sheriff’s Office recently picked up the boat and hope to have it operational and out patrolling in the next two to three weeks.
Members of the family of Chris Mullinex expressed their concern and hope that others would not have to endure a similar tragedy.
To that end they have established the Christopher Mullinex Water Rescue Fund. All monies donated to the fund will go towards the development and operation of a Grand County Water Rescue and Dive Team. Donations to the fund can be made at the Grand Mountain Bank in Granby.
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