Safety concerns grow as drownings across Wisconsin increase

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OCONOMOWOC, Wis. (CBS 58) --- Drowning deaths are increasing in Wisconsin. Numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Natural resources show an increase in boating fatalities since 2020.

According to the DNR, in 2019, nine people died in boating incidents across the state. That number increased to 22 deaths at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and continues to increase.

In 2021, the number of boating fatalities spiked to 25 and so far this year sits at a dozen.

DNR officials say more people have been out on the water since the pandemic and in many cases boaters and swimmers may have been inexperienced.

Jason Roberts, DNR conservation warden, says people often underestimate the water, and with an increase of people on the lakes, more incidents tend to occur. "If you talk to any of the local marinas and boat suppliers here, you'll see that they are unable to meet the demands of the public," he said.

On Sunday, July 24, a man drowned in Lac La Belle in Oconomowoc. Just three days prior, a man drowned in a separate incident on the same lake.

Police say both men were in their 30s and from Milwaukee. They were boating using rental boats with family and friends and in both cases, the men entered the water and never came back up.

"I do believe that they both had their life jackets on the boat but were not wearing them when they jumped in the water," said Jake Bolyard, with the Town of Oconomowoc Police Department.

Officials continue to stress that the best way to protect yourself on the water is a life jacket or other form of personal floatation device. Both drownings are still under investigation and officials say the lake is still safe. The city is now focused on prevention moving forward.

"We're going to look at all the facts, everything that happened over the last four to five days. Is there something we can do as a city, as a town, as a community, to make sure it doesn't happen again?" said Robert Magnus, Oconomowoc mayor.

In Wisconsin, at least four people have died in drownings since Friday, including a 14-year-old boy whose body was pulled from a pond at a campground in Bristol on Sunday.

Officials encourage extra precaution during any water activities this summer.

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