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March 31, 2009

Rash of Boating Fatalities Prompts Calls for Greater Responsibility

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas game wardens today continue searching two North Texas lakes and an East Texas reservoir for victims of three, separate, single-vessel boating accidents.

On Lake Grapevine, game wardens have been joined by rescuers from the Lewisville Fire Department and Grapevine Fire Department in the search for Trevor Dennis Rotzoll, 26, of Grapevine. Rotzoll and another man were in a canoe that capsized shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday in approximately 40 feet of water near Silver Lake Marina. Rotzoll’s companion survived.

There were no life jackets aboard the canoe, and weather, alcohol and inexperience are all believed to be factors in the accident.

The search for Rotzoll has been hampered by cables, drowned trees and other submerged debris in the water. Game wardens and the Grapevine Fire Department continue to patrol the area each day.

On Lake Lavon, two teenagers ventured onto the lake from a private residence in the Farmersville area in a paddleboat yesterday afternoon. The paddleboat capsized in high winds. The teen-aged girl, a minor, was able to hold on to the paddleboat as it was blown to the far shore. Her companion, 18-year-old Michael Simmons, of Freeville, N.Y., is missing.

Neither teen was wearing a life jacket and, according to witnesses, no life jackets were aboard the paddleboat.

Four boats — a game warden boat equipped with side-scan sonar, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat, and boats from the Wiley and Branch fire departments — are currently searching the lake for Simmons.

On Richland Chambers Reservoir, the search continues for 17-year-old Jerrod Rachel, who was reported missing after going on a fishing trip with his grandfather March 24. The body of Rachel’s grandfather, Jerry King, 72, of Athens, was recovered March 27. The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office and Navarro County Sheriff’s Office are assisting game wardens with the search, and additional boats from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries Division, the Tarrant Regional Water District and the Texas Department of Public Safety have been searching the lake today. Neither man is believed to have been wearing a life jacket.

A game warden recovered the body of 54-year-old Michael Wells Barton, of Hickory Creek, Texas, from the shores of Lake Lewisville yesterday evening at about 9:30 p.m. Barton had been missing from his sailboat since March 23. Barton was not wearing a life jacket. The Denton County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Barton’s death.

Game wardens in Central Texas recovered the body of Jarod David Dawkins, 27, from Belton Lake March 26. Dawkins had been missing since March 17 when the boat he was on capsized. One other man died in that accident while three other passengers survived. Alcohol and overloading of the small boat are believed to be factors in the Belton Lake accident, and neither of the victims was wearing a life jacket.

"We’re off to a grim start this boating season," said Game Warden Maj. Alfonso Campos, chief of marine safety enforcement at TPWD. "Over and over again we’re seeing preventable accidents. If people had just exercised better judgment about the weather and their abilities, worn life jackets and — in two cases — been responsible about alcohol use, six lives might well have been saved over the past two weeks."

Campos noted that of the 61 boating fatalities statewide last year — a 10-year high in Texas — 59 involved only one vessel.

"What that tells us is that everyone who goes out on the water really is responsible for his or her own safety," he said. "Even though the law does not require anyone over the age of 12 to do so, please wear a life jacket. Spend $13 and eight hours of your time on a boater education class. And designate a sober driver for your boat and for a safe ride home."

For more information about safe boating, please visit: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/boat/responsible/index.phtml

For more information about approved boater education courses, go to: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/learning/boater_education/index.phtml

AR 2009-03-31


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