Pick any sunny summer day and you'll see hoards of people enjoying themselves at the lake: Children bobbing on neon inner tubes, friends play-wrestling in the water, swimmers cannonballing off the pier.
But sometimes it goes wrong.
Last week, three people drowned in Pierce County lakes in three days.
A 21-year-old Tacoma man died July 8 at Lake Tapps after he jumped from a boat and tried to swim to shore. Lakewood police and fire divers found his body in about 12 feet of water.
A day later, a 28-year-old Tacoma man was pulled from American Lake. His heart had stopped and he was not breathing. He was revived but died the next morning at St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood.
The final death happened Saturday when a 24-year-old man from Spring Hill, Tenn., died at Lake Tapps after he disappeared while swimming with family members.
Alexandra Adkins of Lakewood was sunbathing at American Lake last week when lifeguards pulled the man from the water.
“Nobody saw him go under,” she said. “The kids were making a lot of noise. Nobody could hear anything.”
The man was taken from the designated swimming area, about 15 feet away from where she lay. He was tall and had dark hair.
“I wanted to see him take a breath again,” Adkins said. “It was terrible.”
The deaths illustrate the need for precautionary measures when swimming in natural bodies of water, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department officials said.
Tim Hardin, environmental health specialist for the department, gave the following advice for lake swimmers:
• Watch out for hypothermia.
The top layer of lake water might be warm on hot days, but chillier temperatures below present a risk when your body is fully immersed. The water in Lake Tapps comes from a glacier and averages 50 degrees in the summer.
“Water will take the heat out of the body faster than air,” Hardin said. “When you’re that cold, you don’t think as quickly. ... Your muscles don’t work as well. When you get to that point, you can start to panic.”
• Don’t try to swim long distances. An easy distance to run can be considerably more difficult to swim.
“It’s always a lot farther than you think it is,” Hardin said. “Swimming is inherently a lot of work,” because water is a denser medium than air, requiring more energy to push through.
• Be honest about your swimming ability. Partner up with someone who can keep an eye on you in the water. Inexperienced swimmers are encouraged to wear life vests.
• Don’t swim while intoxicated. Alcohol and drugs, even prescription drugs, should be out of the question, Hardin said.
“You need to be clear-headed,” he said.
Precautionary measures are important because people tend to lock themselves into an automatic reaction when they start to drown, Hardin said.
“You should relax and try to float, but most people aren’t going to do that,” he said. “They put their arms in the air and start waving their arms, counter to maintaining buoyancy, and then they start to go under.”
Joyce Chen: 253-597-8426 firstname.lastname@example.org