Summer’s 3 drowning deaths spur ask for local water rescue program |

Summer’s 3 drowning deaths spur ask for local water rescue program

Of the 31 people who drowned in Colorado this year, three died in Grand County.

Shawn Diaz, 36, disappeared May 31 while tubing on the Upper Colorado River. A boy drowned in Lake Granby on July 31, and less than a month later, Kevin Owen, 35, drowned in the same lake.

While it can be hard to pin down an official number of drowning deaths statewide, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has reported at least 31 in the state this year. Seventeen of those were boating related. One was commercial rafting.

However, officials agree that this summer has seen the highest number of drowning deaths ever in Colorado. Just under 10% of those fatalities occurred in Grand, yet water recoveries for those incidents often depended on resources outside the county.

The boy who drowned in late July was reported at 4 p.m. With the assistance of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office submersible drone and CPW, his body was recovered from the lake four hours later.

For Owen, who disappeared under the water at 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 26, Grand County responders had to again wait for Summit’s submersible drone and CPW to find his body. It was almost five hours before his body was recovered.

Grand Lake Fire does have a water rescue program with certified divers, cold water certified rescuers, ice rescuers and two marine units specifically built for water rescue that responded to both the drownings on Lake Granby. However, when the team was unable to recover the victims in time to rescue them, the Summit County dive team was called in to utilize their recovery drone. That takes several hours to deploy.

“For the second drowning within a month, we sat at the shore side with this family waiting for Summit County to arrive,” Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said. “There is nothing more tear jerking than sitting there watching this family for an hour and half just waiting for a piece of equipment.”

The sheriff’s office currently has one boat and a river raft that was donated by Summit County. However, the county alone lacks the training, staffing and equipment to provide the response that situations this summer demanded.

That’s why the sheriff’s office, along with other agencies including Grand EMS and the fire departments, is pushing for a countywide water rescue program with their own equipment for such recoveries.

However, such an initiative will not be free. The Grand County Commissioners have been holding budget hearings this week, which is where the water rescue idea was put forward.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, county departments are being asked to cut their budget by 5% and the sheriff’s office is no exception. Even so, Schroetlin asked the county allocate $50,000 for the water rescue program.

“We believe this is super important,” he said. “We have to prioritize it.”

The county commissioners were supportive of the effort, seeing it as necessary in Grand.

“We have a lot of water bodies and we’re getting more and more visitors on these lakes,” Commissioner Merrit Linke said. “Any given day this summer, the lakes were full of boats — as you guys well know.”

Other agencies would also contribute to the fund and discussions are still needed. The county manager said that the local agencies plan to work together to determine the lead agent, specific expenses and other details.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information from the Grand Lake Fire Protection District.

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