Half of drownings in Washington occur in rivers, streams, study says

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A recent study by the state health department confirmed what many around Lewis County already know. Rivers and streams can be especially dangerous in the summer months.

The state health department found that most drownings in Washington happen during the summer and half of the nearly 100 drownings per year occur in rivers and streams.

“The other half of drownings happen in the ocean, bathtubs and a wide range of things,” health department spokesman Marqise Allen said. “Having half in rivers and streams is quite a bit.”

Only one drowning has been reported in Lewis County this summer. A 94-year-old woman died after falling into the Chehalis River near Curtis on Tuesday.

However, last summer had multiple drownings in the Chehalis River, including an 8-year-old who fell into the river, a 16-year-old who tried to swim across the river and a 24-year-old who went missing at the Pe Ell River Run.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Stacy Brown said the biggest trend her office sees is people getting in the water before it is warm enough to swim.

The Sheriff’s Office also warns about river currents.

“Our rivers change from year to year and season to season, so what may have been a safe hole to jump into one year may not be the next year” Brown said. “We caution people to be careful and not to jump into water if they can’t see the bottom.”

Now that the water is warm by this point in the summer, Brown said, the other issue the Sheriff’s Office sees is people not wearing their life jackets while boating.

“That is our biggest message is to wear a life jacket, especially for children,” Brown said.

Starting on Sunday, boating laws in Washington will change to increase the penalty for boating under the influence from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. A BUI conviction will carry a fine up to $5,000 and one year in jail.

“We have had a couple BUIs this year and we have seen a lot of tragedies (in the past),” Brown said. “Usually alcohol is involved in the tragedies.”

The highest drowning numbers in the state are among teenagers and young adults, the state health department said, and people who drown often do so silently and without notice.

“The department wants people to be safe and enjoy the summer time in a safe way,” Allen said. “We don’t want people going out for fun and having it end in a tragedy. That is the last thing anybody wants to have happen.”