Drownings rose sharply as July heat brought more people to the water


July has been a deadly month on Maryland waters, with 13 people reported killed in drowning and boating accidents through Friday, according to the state Natural Resources Police.

Nearly half of those who drowned were children, prompting a warning to parents from the agency's newly appointed superintendent, Col. Franklin I. Wood.

"Children die because the parents are not watching them," he said. Even momentary inattention can be fatal. "It can happen so quickly."

He urged parents to make more use of personal flotation devices to protect their children from fatal accidents while playing by the water.

Although life jackets must be carried on boats for every passenger, Maryland law does not require that children use them. Several attempts by the 1992 General Assembly to enact laws requiring children to wear the devices while on pleasure boats were defeated.

But state Department of Natural Resources statistics suggest that the bigger danger to kids is onthe shore. All six children who drowned in Maryland this month died while playing by the water's edge.

"If [adults] are walking on a pier or along the water's edge, they ought to put a personal flotation device on the child," said Col. Wood. Under all circumstances, "children should be watched or attended by a responsible adult."

Col. Wood, a 24-year veteran of the Natural Resources Police, was named superintendent last week by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. He replaces Col. Jack Taylor, who retired July 1 after 32 years of service to the agency, seven as superintendent.

There have been 13 drownings in July, bringing the year's total to 30. Eleven of them were children, with an average age between 7 and 8. Seven more people died in boating-related accidents, including two in July.

That compares with 26 drownings and 32 boating fatalities in all of 1991.

The fatalities have occurred in white water rivers, tidal marshes, reservoirs, quarries, farm ponds and backyard pools, from Garrett County to the Eastern Shore.,in white water rivers, tidal marshes, reservoirs,quarries,farm ponds and backyard pools.

Col. Wood attributed the sharp increase in drownings this mont in part to better reporting, but also to heavier recreational use of the state's waterways after hot, sunny weather finally arrived in July.

The most recent drownings involved two men who died Wednesday in separate accidents in Cecil and St. Mary's counties.

The body of Robert William Combs, 40, of Valley Lee, in St. Mary's County was pulled from a marsh on Herring Creek near the Potomac River community of Tall Timbers shortly before 11 p.m. Wednesday.

DNR spokesman Robert L. Gould said Mr. Combs had been reporting missing by his mother when he did not return home at dusk from crabbing.

He said Mr. Combs, an epileptic on medication, was aboard a 16-foot skiff when he apparently fell overboard.

In Cecil County, the body of Kenneth Laverne Boley, 41, of East Earl, Pa., was recovered at 7:30 p.m. from the Susquehanna River.

Natural Resources Police said Mr. Boley was boating with his 4-year-old son and friends when he tried to swim from a boat anchored near Carpenter Point and Furnace Bay about 3:30 p.m.

White water sections of the Potomac River have been the biggest killers this year, responsible for nine of the 30 drownings

"The Potomac is notorious for being calm one day and the next day being very rapid and rough," said Mr. Gould. "And there are several different types of obstructions under water that you just can't see."

Dennis Wade Jones, 37, of Westminster, was fishing along the Potomac with his step-grandson July 14 when he stepped in a hole in the middle of the river and went down. His body was found an hour later.

Four days earlier, 14-year-old Michael Kolivas, of Baltimore, drowned in the Potomac after he slipped into the river while looking for fish bait. He was swimming back to shore when he was caught on an underwater object and swept downstream.

Drugs and alcohol are not believed to have been a factor in the Potomac River drownings, but are suspected of playing a significant role in most other adult drownings across the state.

Heart attacks are suspected of playing a role in four of the seven boating-related fatalities reported to the Natural Resources Police. In the others, boat operators were killed by a fall into icy water; a faulty heating system, and a fall, followed by propeller injuries.

Month. . .. . . Drowning. . ... Boating

Jan.. ........... 2. ................ 1

Feb.. .. ........ 0 . ................0

March. .......... 3. ................ 0

April. . ........ 4. ................ 3

May. ... .........6. .................0

June. .. .........2.... ..............1

July. .......... 13. ................ 2

1992*........... 30. ................ 7

1991. .......... 26. ............... 32

* Through July 29Source: Natural Resources Police



Here's some water safety advice from Dr. Susan P. Baker, of the Injury Prevention Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health:

1. Don't go swimming or boating after drinking. Studies have shown that more than half of all people who drown while swimming or boating are intoxicated. Alcohol distorts judgment, coordination and ability to gauge the hazards of the water. It also speeds hypothermia and may help trigger cardiac arrest.

2. Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Many drowning victims are pulled quickly from the water, but rescuers then wait for paramedics to arrive because no one present knows how to peform CPR effectively.

3. Don't swim in unfamiliar waters where underwater objects, deep water and currents may be hazardous. People rarely drown in approved swimming areas, or where lifeguards are present.

4. Know your swimming ability. The risk to non-swimmers is obvious. But people who know how to swim often overestimate their ability and get into trouble in water that's too deep or too far from shore.

5. Use personal flotation devices. Always wear life vests while boating. Children should wear personal flotation devices whenever they are playing in or near the water. Even the most attentive adults can't keep all kids in sight all the time. A tragedy can occur in seconds.

6. Build child-proof fences around pools. Drowning rates among older people are declining, but they have remained constant among children. Unfenced or inadequately fenced pools are a major factor.


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