A 24-year-old man aboard a sinking boat drowned early Sunday in Logan County’s Indian Lake, a recreational hot spot for central Ohioans, especially on holiday weekends.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft, which investigated, has identified the man as Joshua Keith of Bellefontaine, southeast of the lake in Logan County.
Investigators said nine people were on the boat, which started to sink just north of the Lakeview boat ramp on the southwest side of the lake about 12:30 a.m. When watercraft officers arrived, eight of the people had been pulled from the water by local fire department rescuers, but Keith was missing. His body was recovered about two hours later.
He had not been wearing a life jacket, officials said.
It was the second drowning of the weekend in central Ohio, and state watercraft officers said it underscored the importance of life jackets — especially over the Labor Day holiday, when boaters and swimmers are out in force.
Last year, 560 people nationwide died in recreational-boating accidents, the U.S. Coast Guard reported. Of those deaths, 397 were drownings; of those who drowned, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket.
State watercraft officer Travis Martin said the value of the life jacket is clear: “It floats. You don’t.”
In Ohio, 13 people died in boating accidents in 2013, though no one was available to say how many, if any, wore a life jacket. Martin said historical statistics would tell him that most did not.
In the Indian Lake sinking, authorities initially said none of the people on board the boat wore life jackets but later said that a few did. No additional details were available, including what kind of boat it was, what caused it to take on water or who made the call for help.
The earlier drowning on Saturday was in a private pond northeast of Johnstown in Licking County.
Authorities said in that case, 36-year-old Jeffery Everetts was swimming with co-workers and friends when, while trying to swim to an island, he went under. Sheriff’s office detectives said he had been drinking.
Investigators did not say whether alcohol was a factor in the Indian Lake drowning.
Although Ohio rules require appropriately sized life jackets be available for every person on a boat on a public waterway, boaters generally are not required to wear them. The law says only that children under 10 must wear them on boats less than 18 feet long and that anyone skiing or being towed or riding a personal watercraft must wear one.
In 2013, there were 450,018 registered boats in Ohio, according to the Division of Watercraft’s annual report.
Martin said it is especially important to wear life jackets at night (there are no restrictions on boating hours at Indian Lake, he noted) and in bad weather. Weak swimmers also should always wear one.
Many people shun them because they say they are too uncomfortable, Martin said. But more often, people simply believe they are strong enough swimmers that a life jacket is unnecessary. They don’t think they’ll ever get tired or disoriented in the water. But people do.
“Then there’s no way to stand up to rest, nothing to grab on to and nothing to hold you up,” Martin said. “The difference in the outcome of that situation is made by the life vest.”
By Holly Zachariah - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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