State officials, families alarmed by spate of drowning deaths
At least eight people have died in apparent drownings across Massachusetts since the final days of June, alarming state officials and families as a heat wave and Fourth-of-July-week celebrations drew thousands to cool off at local pools, beaches, and other bodies of water.
On Saturday afternoon, a kayaker was pulled from the West Lake of Monponsett Pond in Hanson by neighbors, who frantically tried to revive him. He was hospitalized and his condition was unclear Saturday evening.
Throughout the day, some parents at local swimming areas kept an especially close eye on their children, as public officials called for heightened vigilance following the spate of deaths.
State Police spokesman David Procopio said the number of deaths was higher than was anticipated in such a short period.
“Sadly, every summer we respond to a certain number of drownings, and they’re all tragedies,” he added. “When there’s a heat wave, the potential for more drownings than normal exists. Even with that qualifier, I think the amount we’ve seen . . . has been more than what we would expect.”
While the circumstances of the drownings have varied, the recent high temperatures could have made swimming more dangerous, according to Dr. Ali S. Raja, executive vice chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“We saw patients get heat stroke, dehydration, and heat exhaustion while they were out swimming,” he said. “Even though you are in the water, adults and kids need to remember to keep drinking water, too.”
There were an average of 3,536 drowning deaths nationwide from 2005 to 2014, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Massachusetts, drowning deaths ranged from a high of 89 in 2013 to 52 in 2014, the last year for which data were available Saturday.
The recent deaths include the apparent drownings on Friday of a 2-year-old boy pulled from a backyard pool in Lynn and a 35-year-old man in a Millbury pond.
In Millbury, the body of Michael Boyd was found by police in Dorothy Pond after he dove underwater to retrieve a tackle box. Boyd’s aunt and godmother, Diana Coggans, said her 45-year-old son was in the kayak with Boyd and realized that Boyd was in trouble when the rope they were both holding jerked out of his hands and disappeared underwater.
“I don’t know how to feel. I am so relieved that my son is alive, but I am devastated that my nephew died,” said Coggans, 63.
A 13-year-old boy also died Thursday after being pulled from Bell Pond in Worcester on Wednesday night.
That same evening, Uwaldo Erazo, 20, drowned in Silver Lake at Breakheart Reservation, according to the Essex district attorney’s office.
And on June 29, Saudi college students Theeb Alyami, 27, and Jaser Daham Alrakah, 25, drowned after they were swept away in the Chicopee River in Wilbraham, according to the Hampden district attorney.
The students were good Samaritans who helped rescue two children caught in the current but then were overcome by the same force, Procopio said.
Beneath the cloudless sky above Revere Beach on Saturday, Nielle and Alexandre Marques, of Medford, said they keep close watch over their 3-year-old son, George, and never allow him near water unattended.
“I mean, not even in the bathtub,” said Nielle Marques, 38.
She said her nephew came close to drowning in a backyard pool when he was 5.
“Then his brother, who’s a little bit older than him, saw him gasping for air,” she said. “Then my brother jumped into the pool. He had everything on him — cellphone, everything — and then got him out. It was frightening.”
Jessica Santiago, 23, who has been a lifeguard for seven years and oversees the lifeguards at Revere Beach, said educating the public about water safety is a big part of the job.
“Anybody can be a victim of drowning, at any time, any moment, any age,” she said. “Drowning does not discriminate.”
As a lifeguard, Santiago said, “you just always want to be watching your water, because you never know when that moment is going to come when you have to act quickly, because it makes a difference.”
Procopio said the state advises residents and visitors to wear life vests when on any kind of boat, to swim only with lifeguards present, and to avoid deep water if they are unable to swim. Parents should enroll their children in swimming lessons, he said.
“It’s a low-cost activity . . . that could save the child’s life someday,” he said.
Anyone swimming in the ocean or in a river should be mindful of currents, Procopio added.
He said parents should remember that small children, especially, can drown in just a few inches of water.
“Don’t leave children unattended near pools . . . or any shoreline,” Procopio said.
The danger lying beneath the placid surface of Wellesley’s Morses Pond was very much on the mind of Deikis Del Rosario, of Lawrence, on Saturday as she sat under a tree near the water.
“I want them to learn. I don’t want to be worried all the time,” Del Rosario said as she watched her young son and daughter splash in the pond.
With volleyball nets, toddling children, and thickly applied sunscreen, Morses Pond is the picture of summer serenity. It is also the location where a 10-year-old boy drowned in 2013 and a 35-year-old landscape worker apparently drowned in 2016.
On Saturday, workers at the pond were vigilant about safety. Several lifeguards were posted by the small swimming area, and a loudspeaker called “beach check-ins” every hour to count the children and give them a rest.
Parents from two families shared a blanket near the pond, where they snacked and watched their children play in the sand.
“I’m a little hesitant at the water, so making sure she’s not hesitant is a priority,” Adam Barney said of his 23-month-old daughter, Louisa.
She has been in water safety classes for months, learning to get comfortable and splash around.
“Accidents do happen; we want them to know what happens if they trip and fall into the water,” Lisa Musayev said of her daughters, Zoe Alfred, 6, and Ayla Alfred, 22 months.
“We don’t tell them, ‘Don’t drown,’ ” said Robert Alfred, Musayev’s husband. “We tell them ‘Don’t go into the deep end without an adult.’ ”
Del Rosario said she didn’t learn to swim while growing up in the Dominican Republic, but she wants to find swim lessons to her son Davien Almengo, 7, and daughter Daylin Almengo, 8.
She has been frightened since a family friend’s 3-year-old son drowned a few summers ago, she said.
“For me, that’s always something that’s always on my mind,” she said, watching the children splash. “Every time my kids are in the water, I think about that.”