Fort Mill Times

Law enforcement looks for answers after string of Lake Wylie drownings

A hard week for law enforcement officers on Lake Wylie isn’t yielding obvious answers, other than to keep at their task of promoting water safety.

Law enforcement agencies from all three counties and both states surrounding the lake gathered at the June 22 Lake Wylie Marine Commission meeting, one that began with a moment of silence for recent lives lost on the lake. Four drownings were reported in nine days.

Officers struggled to explain the incidents that had little in common.

“Unfortunately, they all just happened back to back,” said Officer Stanley Joye with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

On June 14, a 64-year-old woman drowned in 2 feet of water at a York County sandbar.

On June 20, Charlotte Fire Department recovered a 22-year-old kayaker near the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte on the Catawba River, north of the I-85 bridge.

The morning of the marine commission meeting, there were two drownings with several of the officers at the meeting reponding to the incidents. Rescue crews recovered the body of a 19-year-old counselor at Camp Thunderbird after he and another counselor jumped about 2 a.m. from Buster Boyd Bridge. At 6 a.m., a fisherman discovered a body floating about 15 feet offshore at River Hills Marina, later identified as a 60-year-old Fort Mill man.

“There is no trend,” said Sgt. Wayne Richardson with the York County Sheriff’s Office.

Officers said the sandbar drowning happened in shallow water, with a experienced swimmer, while the River Hills incident likely involved someone incapacitated before he fell into the water.

CMPD officer Brian Carey said the kayaker near the whitewater center took off his life jacket to go swimming. He hit a steep drop off abut 9 feet near where he swam, and family members weren’t able to pull 6-foot man to safety.

“They left their life jackets on the kayak,” Carey said.

The counselor who jumped off the bridge wasn’t a strong swimmer, according to the York County Sheriff’s Office incident report.

“I really can’t say why he made that decision,” Joye said. “Certainly people who don’t know how to swim need to wear a life jacket.”

Despite the recent drownings, officers say there has been an overall increase in public safety since Memorial Day weekend when there were only minor citations and one boating under the influence case.

“There was a lot more compliance than in the past,” Richardson said. “We’re seeing more life jackets on children than we have seen in the past.”

Rick Croasdale, vice commander with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 26-2, said life jacket loaner boards at Buster Boyd and South Point accessa areas, and Ebenezer Park are stocked.

“Things are improving,” Croasdale said.

Officer William Laton with North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is holding more vessel safety checks this year before boats hit the water.

“Education is key,” Laton said. “Our goal is to make people safe, whatever it takes.”

John Marks •  803-831-8166