Recent drownings cause game wardens to stress water safety

Recent drownings cause game wardens to stress water safety

EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - A second drowning on an East Texas lake in a three-day period - most recently, a swimmer at a state park - serves as a grim reminder to be aware on and near the water.

Investigators say a swimmer drowned Friday night in the swim area on Park Road at Tyler State Park. The man was identified as 44-year-old Michael O'Neal of Lindale, who was said to be familiar with the park and swimming area.  According to family members, O'Neal swam too far out and was seen going under. 

Witnesses at the scene were able to locate him and pull him out, and emergency crews attempted to resuscitate him for about an hour, but were unsuccessful. 

This incident, as well as a boater drowning Wednesday at Lake O' the Pines and other safety concerns, have East Texas game wardens urging boaters and swimmers to use caution on recreational waters.

Lakes and rivers are at the height of use now that schools are out and vacations have begun, and game wardens are continuing to put out a familiar message.

"Just be smart out on the water. All the more reason to have that life jacket on at all times. It's a better idea to have them on, but at least have them accessible," says Gregg County Game Warden Todd Long.

Drownings at Tyler State Park and Lake O' the Pines again point to respect for the power of water.

"How good can you swim if you're thrown overboard maybe knocked unconscious? Or you've swallowed a gallon of water; how good can you swim?" Long says.

Earlier in the week, two Dallas fisherman went out on the Sabine with only a trolling motor. The battery died, and they had no oars to paddle out with, leaving them stranded for hours.

"This time of year people are getting out for the first time. Don't wait to get to the lake to discover you've got a dead battery, or you're without a paddle," Long says.

Lake wardens say people seem to relax their cautions when they should pay more attention.

"Whether it's boats, jet-skis, barges...any kind of watercraft. People should use boats safely," says Lake Cherokee lake manager Erin Summerlin.

But caution could save your life.

"Always have a plan; let somebody know where you're going to be. Always wear your lifejacket; nobody's waterproof," says Upshur County Game Warden Nathan Skeen.

Game wardens say even strong swimmers can tire quickly in long swims, and should swim within their limits. Having lifejackets for every person on any watercraft is required.

Copyright 2018 KLTV. All rights reserved.