Deadly Waters: A WGEM News In-Depth Report - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Deadly Waters: A WGEM News In-Depth Report

Posted:
The WGEM News Drone shows Lock and Dam 19 in Keokuk. The WGEM News Drone shows Lock and Dam 19 in Keokuk.
Pauline Lorenz wipes a tear from her eye as she talks about losing her son Rick in a boating accident in July 2016. Pauline Lorenz wipes a tear from her eye as she talks about losing her son Rick in a boating accident in July 2016.
Rick Lorenz and ZuZu. Both were killed in July 2016 in a boating accident on the Mississippi River. Rick Lorenz and ZuZu. Both were killed in July 2016 in a boating accident on the Mississippi River.
Two boaters fish against one of the gates on the east side of Keokuk's dam, which is illegal. Two boaters fish against one of the gates on the east side of Keokuk's dam, which is illegal.
A U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary member speaks to roughly 50 boaters at a safety class in Keokuk in April. A U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary member speaks to roughly 50 boaters at a safety class in Keokuk in April.
KEOKUK, Ia. (WGEM) -

A Keokuk mother who lost her son in a boating accident on the Mississippi river last year shared her story for the first time in hopes of raising awareness about boating dangers.

"That Mississippi River has taken so many lives," Pauline Lorenz said.

A handful of lives were lost just in the last year, including Pauline's son, Rick Lorenz. He and his pet ZuZu were killed in a boating accident on the river last July.

We just don't know what happened. I wish I knew. Maybe I don't want to know but I wish I could get closure, but I can't get closure.

Authorities think his boat likely went through Lock and Dam 19 at Keokuk, but it's unclear why.

Ameren officials estimate that if a boat goes through one of the gates at the dam, the drop is up to 35 feet with roughly 30,000 gallons of rushing water per second.

If a life is lost, Conservation Police Officer Eric Wheatley, with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, may have to break the news. 

A lot of the times, I might be the one who tells them, yes we found your son, your daughter, your husband.

It's a part of his job that never gets easier. And with each life that's lost he questions why some boaters make risky choices, like fishing close to the Keokuk dam.

While WGEM's cameras were rolling recently, we spotted two people fishing against a gate just below the dam, which is illegal.

Wheatley said violators can be ticketed $120 and while the law is enforced, increased patrols are tough because of lack of personnel. There's also a lack of obvious warning signs, he said.

The deaths in the last year prompted an increased push for boater safety and awareness.

In a free, 8-hour class in Keokuk last month, roughly 50 boaters learned everything from safely towing their boats to keeping life-saving equipment on board, like life-jackets.

I mean this isn't something that you have on your boat because a guy with a gun and a badge tells you you need to have it or you're gonna get a ticket. This is stuff that can save you or your family member's life. Same with a fire extinguisher. Same with a whistle.

Adults don't need a license to boat but the classes teach you valuable, life saving information. You can also earn a U.S. Coast Guard-approved training certificate that may lower your boating insurance.

It's all part of a recent initiative called "Head Above Water, " which Bryan Sage spent months organizing.

"We (boaters) bear the burden for a lot of this," Sage said. "We've got to educate ourselves."

Sage pointed to a 2015 U.S Coast Guard report that shows boaters with no training accounted for 71 percent of deaths.

"One of the things we talk about is complacency," Jeff Wilson, with U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, said.

"If you pay attention to your newscasts and your shows, you're talking about guys with a lot of experience, that have been on the river and are old enough to know better," Sage said. "You would think they know better, but they've just made a poor choice."

Sage has spearheaded an effort to save more lives. He's working with Illinois DNR officers on "boater in danger" 911 scripts, which are best practice responses for when dispatchers receive 911 calls.

According to Sage, the goal is to help law enforcement from different jurisdictions communicate more efficiently and get rescuers on the water faster in the event of an emergency.

Sage also said by this summer, possibly in June, boaters can expect to see more obvious warning signs posted at boat ramps, including in Montrose, Iowa, Warsaw, Illinois, and Alexandria, Missouri.

Also this summer, Sage hopes to start an "In Before Dark" program. It's meant to figure out where a boater is if they're not back by nightfall.

*Latest government statistics

"You can either sign a list at the (Keokuk) Yacht Club or get a door hanger at the Southside (Boat Club)." Sage said. "You put that on your boat trailer and police patrol these boat ramps anyway. And when they see a sticker on that trailer, they'll be able to make the call to whether that guy's actually in trouble. I already have agreement from Hamilton and Keokuk police to make checking for "In Before Dark" tags as part of their nightly summertime patrol." 

Pauline Lorenz hasn't been on the water since she lost her son. She's conflicted whether she'll ever boat again but hopes Rick's death can serve as a warning to others.

"Don't boat after dark, really, I guess" Lorenz advised. "It's dangerous out there and he used to go out after dark and he knew that river. He'd say 'Oh Mom don't worry nothing is gonna happen.' Yeah right."

Powered by Frankly