Nokomis drowning: Mpls Park Board explains why lifeguard wasn't on duty

A teenager was trying to swim to the raft visible in the distance when he drowned.
A teenager was trying to swim to the raft visible in the distance when he drowned.

Around 10 a.m. yesterday, a 15-year-old football player at Minneapolis South High School drowned while swimming off Lake Nokomis's east beach with a group of seven teammates following a summer practice. (Update -- the boy has been identified as Sha-kym Adams.)

Witnesses reported hearing the boy, who was trying to swim out to a raft about 50 feet from the shore, cry out in distress before he went under. Despite a frantic search involving his teammates and bystanders, his body wasn't found until about an hour later. No lifeguard was on duty at the time.

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We called Dawn Sommers, communications director for the Minneapolis Park Board, to ask about the status of lifeguards on Nokomis's east beach. She says one is typically on duty there Thursday-Sunday beginning 11 a.m. each summer day.

Lifeguards were present at a larger beach across the lake. They rushed to help as it became clear a swimmer was in distress, but it was too late.

Sommers says the fact a lifeguard wasn't on duty at Nokomis's east beach isn't a reflection of budget cuts or anything of that sort, as funding for the Park Board's lifeguard program actually went up last year.

There are 12 public beaches in Minneapolis. Here, via the Star Tribune, is a breakdown of when lifeguards work this summer:

Lifeguards will be on East Cedar, Lake Calhoun Thomas, Lake Harriet North, Lake Nokomis Main and Theodore Wirth Lake every day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. They will be at Cedar Point, Lake Calhoun 32nd and Lake Nokomis 50th beaches at those times Thursday to Sunday.

On days when the temperature is 85 degrees or warmer at 6 p.m., lifeguard hours will be extended one hour.

Cedar South, Lake Calhoun North, Lake Harriet Southeast and Lake Hiawatha do not have lifeguards.

Sommers says there were no drownings in Minneapolis lakes last year. There were two in 2012, one involving a 16-year-old boy and the other a six-year-old boy.

"Any drowning is tragic, and everybody wishes it wouldn't happen in the first place," Sommers tells us. "But when you take into consideration our 12 beaches and the number of uses we serve, we do have a pretty safe record. That doesn't diminish the heartache and tragedy of any single one of them."

We asked Sommers if tragedies like yesterday's gets the Park Board thinking about increasing the budget for lifeguard services.

"The challenge is, where would you draw the line?" she replies. "People drown at 2 o'clock in the morning. Our beaches are very accessible. It's not like a swimming pool where you have a fence and you lock up."

"Unless you were able to lifeguard from sunup to sundown... we're lifeguarding during what we know to be our times of most frequent use."

Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.

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