Drownings spur fears

By Deanna Hohler Bottar Record-Courier staff write Published:

The next minute, he was nowhere to be seen.

In the blink of an eye last week, the child fell below the water's surface,

breathing in the liquid he seconds earlier had played in happily. Nicholas

was found lying on the pond's bottom, his young body turning blue. He was

recovered by his father with the help of another adult, according to the

Portage County Sheriff's Office.

CPR administered by adults on the beach breathed life back into the little

boy's lungs just as rescue workers from the Mantua-Shalersville Fire Department

arrived on the scene to transport the child to Robinson Memorial Hospital

in Ravenna. Unfortunately, stories like Nicholas' don't always have such

happy endings.

In June, 3-year-old Brandon Anthony Grafton of Ravenna wasn't so lucky;

neither was 16-year-old Jeremy Alan Elliot of Windham.

Brandon died in Tucaway Lake's swimming pond where he was frolicking with

family and friends on Father's Day. He is believed to have been submerged

for six to eight minutes before his body was discovered, according to the

Mantua-Shalersville Fire Department.

Brandon's death came on the heels of a near-drowning incident at the same

campground involving another 3-year-old June 14. That child, who survived,

was transported to Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron for treatment.

"We've been 25 to 30 years with no problems," said Dorothy Pittman

who owns the campground located at 3365 Lake Rockwell Road with her husband,

Roger, who built it. "This must be the year for drownings. It's not

a very pleasant thing."

The campground, which is sheltered by tall trees and accented with grassy

areas, caters mostly to long-term campers. Many set up their recreational

vehicles in campsites as early as May and use the campground as a home base

throughout the summer and into October when the camping season ends, Pittman

said.

The swimming area is a separate body of water from a 75-acre lake, which

attracts many anglers and is speckled with fishing boats throughout the

warm months. The Pittmans allow the public onto Tucaway Lake property to

use the fishing area, but outsiders are not welcome to swim in the pond,

Pittman said.

All guests are urged to register with campground management. Visitors also

must register their cars before entering the campground and give their names

to campground managers who try to keep tabs on who is in the park, Pittman

added.

But Portage County's water safety problems haven't been isolated to Tucaway

Lake. Jeremy died while swimming at Holiday Sands on S.R. 14 in Ravenna

Township where he was swimming with a group of friends he considered to

be family.

The teen, who died about a month shy of his 17th birthday, is believed to

have tired while swimming. It took a Portage County Sheriff's Office dive

team nearly four hours to recover Jeremy's body from a pond-like swimming

area. His death still is under investigation with the Portage County Coroner's

Office.

A complete autopsy report should be available from the Summit County Medical

Examiner's Office, which performed the autopsy, in about two weeks. The

report will include a toxicology report, which will show whether Jeremy

was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the incident.

There were seven lifeguards on duty at the time of Jeremy's death. When

the other incidents occurred this summer at Tucaway Lake, there were no

lifeguards nearby.

"We're right on the instruction of the insurance man," Pittman

said, explaining how Tucaway Lake has signs posted mandating all children

under age 6 wear personal flotation devices while swimming there. "But

we cannot keep people from not watching their children. It's not that big

of a pond, and it's not that deep," she continued.

"There's usually just a couple of families there, and they usually

watch out for each other. I guess the lifeguards aren't always a help either.

People depend on the lifeguards."

According to the Ohio Department of Health, Tucaway Lake does not have to

employ lifeguards to patrol its swimming area. The necessity for lifeguards

and the number of certified life-saving personnel public swimming pool and

pond operators must employ is supervised by county health departments.

Specific rules, including the specifics of lifeguard training and certification,

the height and number of lifeguard chairs needed at public swimming pools

and the proximity of first-aid kits and telephones, are set up by the state

health department, which said Tucaway Lake has not violated its lifeguard

rules.

The Portage County Chapter of the American Red Cross encourages all parents,

guardians and other caretakers of children to keep a close eye on their

whereabouts while near any body of water, regardless of their swimming abilities.

"The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water

is to learn to swim," according to a summer save-a-life bulletin published

by the Red Cross. "We can't keep an eye on everyone all of the time,"

Pittman echoed. "People need to look out for each other."

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