Authorities urge more safety precautions for lake users
by Rick Langenberg:
In yet another tragic twist of fate at a popular recreation hub, officials have concluded that a 28-year-old Colorado Springs man was the latest drowning fatality at the Skagway Reservoir outside Victor.
In the last 13 months, the reservoir has claimed the lives of three recreational boaters, a statistic that is unprecedented for this area. Teller recreational waters now lead the state as far as drowning fatalities with two boating deaths in the last month at Skagway. Authorities don’t believe that more warning signs are needed, but are urging recreational users to take better precautions. The body of Brain Henderson was discovered last weekend, following an intensive search after his canoe capsized on Thursday and he disappeared in the water.
Several area law enforcement and emergency response agencies, including the Teller County Sheriff’s Department, partook in the mission and combed the waters for 30-plus hours. Eight-member dive teams looked for traces of the missing man for two days. Eventually, the search was successfully culminated by the work of the Colorado State Parks Sonar team, who assisted the Colorado Springs Fire Department dive team. After Henderson’s canoe tipped over, the victim reportedly yelled for help, according to witnesses, before sinking beneath the cold waters of Skagway last Thursday. The man was wearing wader boots and didn’t have any type of life jacket. Witnesses at the lake tried to save Henderson, but couldn’t find him. Emergency units then were summoned to the area.
According to Teller County Coroner Al Born, Henderson’s death was attributed to a drowning. “There was no trauma associated with his death,” said the coroner. Born believes the water temperature definitely played a role in Henderson’s death. Initial reports have indicated that possibly the man’s bodily organs couldn’t withstand the super-cold water. “This is not like swimming in a lake in Mississippi. He was alone in a boat that capsized in very cold water, without a life jacket,” said the coroner. “That is not good.”
Oddly enough, about a month ago, Skagway claimed the life of anther recreational boater, when 17-year-old McKenzie Boutin of Colorado Springs died, when the canoe he was using with another man, capsized only 200 feet from the shore. The other 20-year-old man was able to be rescued, but Boutin didn’t survive the mishap. This earlier death hit home for many local residents, as the youth’s father has strong connections in Teller County. And in the spring of 2011, Robert Shetler, a 27-year-old staff sergeant at Fort Carson, died after his body was pulled out of the water by friends. “There was a certain commonality in these deaths,” admitted Born, who noted that none of these victims were wearing life jackets. “People have to take personal responsibility for their safety.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger. “This is not to pas the buck, but this is a state issue. We have no jurisdiction over these recreational areas,” said Ensminger. And like Born, he doesn’t know if adding more warning signs or enacting certain restrictions would help. He believes that recreational boaters have to use good safety and common sense measures. Also, officials have mostly classified these accidents as isolated incidents and don’t see a large-scale problem.
In 2012, state authorities have reported four known drowning incidents, with three of them associated with boating mishaps. Still, officials admit that the latest rash of recreational-related fatalities is extremely unusual. In the last few years, Teller/South Park recreational areas have snagged the lives of six people, with drowning deaths and related boating accidents reported at Skagway, Eleven Mile and Burgess Lake. Prior to this period, Teller recreational waters hardly ever recorded any boat-related fatalities for nearly a decade.