Holiday Week Proving Deadly On Oklahoma Lakes

Monday, July 2nd 2012, 5:57 pm
By: Craig Day

It is proving to be a deadly holiday week. Five people have drowned over the past few days in Oklahoma including a 42-year-old man from Arkansas who went under on the Illinois River while trying to get to his 7-year-old daughter who'd called for help.

Other drownings were reported at Keystone Lake and Fort Gibson Lake.

State troopers say we're very fortunate to have the recreational opportunities we have on lakes and rivers, but there could be real danger if we don't respect the water.

As a state trooper with the Highway Patrol Marine Enforcement division, Ben Chapman has worked a number of drownings.

Far too many.

7/1/2012 Related Story: Five Drown On Oklahoma Waterways Over The Weekend

"A drowning is so different because the person is there and now they're gone, and then there is the unknown until we bring the body up. And that is so devastating," said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Ben Chapman.

The latest drowning happened over the weekend at Ft. Gibson Lake. Late Saturday night, 21-year-old Jimmie Barnett jumped off the side of a pontoon boat, struggled to get back on, and then went underwater.

"He went underwater and was never seen after that," Chapman said.

Barnetts's death is one of several drownings in Oklahoma over the past few days. A 17 year old drowned after falling off a surfboard at Keystone Lake. Just below the Denison Dam on Lake Texoma,, a 38-year-old man drowned while getting a child to safety in the swift current.

Another drowning happened over the weekend at Turner Falls near Davis. The body of a man from Dallas was found in about 12 to 15 feet of water.

Chapman says it's always so tragic.

"Anybody tell you it doesn't bother you, that's not true. It does. It bothers you. And it should," Trooper Ben Chapman said.

While state troopers don't want to discourage people from enjoying Oklahoma lakes, especially during a holiday week, they do want people to be cautious.

"You get into a lake environment, you have so many unknowns. The biggest thing is, you can't see the bottom," the trooper said.

Chapman says in addition to poor visibility, there could also be underwater hazards and unexpected drop-offs.

7/1/2012 Related Story: Army Corps Of Engineers Stress The Importance Of Lifejackets

He says lifejackets are critical.

"It's a life jacket. Put it on, it will save your life. It's that simple," he said.

It's a message repeated over and over again, to many people who never think tragedy will happen to them, or someone they love.