Michigan area deals with water deaths
BY BROOKE KANSIER
AP Member Exchange
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Marley Cummins-Roose’s bright blue eyes and good-natured grin echo her father’s.
The toddler will never see that herself — she was only six weeks old when her dad, North Cummins, drowned in West Grand Traverse Bay in June 2017.
“She has his eyes, his facial features. She’s laughing all the time,” said Marley’s mother, Autumn Roose. “North was a very happy-go-lucky guy — the life of the party. He tried to make everyone smile.
“He was a good father.”
North Cummins joins at least 30 others who’ve succumbed to local waters in the last five years, according to numbers compiled by the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Each leaves loved ones behind.
Roose copes in her own way — by refusing to swim, even in pools — and gives her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter regular lessons in water safety.
She ponders how she’ll someday tell her sweet, blonde-headed daughter how her father died.
“Eventually I’m going to have to tell her,” Roose said, pausing. “That’s a scary thing. I’m not sure how I’m going to do it.
“I think, if he was here, she would’ve been a daddy’s girl.”
Cummins was 18 when a wave toppled him and a friend out of their canoe and into the still-frigid waters of the bay a few hundred yards off the Lake Michigan coast.
Roose could only watch from the shore.
“You never think something like this is going to happen, especially to good people,” she said. “And then it does.”
Most area victims — 26 of 30 — were male, and all but three were 18 or older.
It’s not unusual.
Men are more likely to take risks, according to Dave Benjamin, spokesman for the water safety-focused Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. A US Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey shows men rate their swimming ability more highly than most women.
“People have this false sense of security — ‘I know how to swim, I don’t have to worry about drowning,'” Benjamin said. “Your swimming ability in a pool is not the same as in open water. That’s not swimming — it’s basically bathing.”
Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich sees the most drownings between May and August, when more people are swimming, kayaking and boating. Not every victim is a vacationer, though — he said the split is near 50-50.
Record-Eagle data shows about 17 locals and 13 visitors among drowning victims in the last five years. Borkovich said the majority of his rescue calls involve distressed canoers and kayakers, either owned or rented.
The problem is the confidence that comes with the vessels, he said — and the training that doesn’t.
“It takes $300 to $500 to buy a kayak, and that’s it. There’s no safety class,” Borkovich said. “When you tip, they’re very difficult to get back into.”
The majority of kayakers don’t bring life jackets that might’ve made the difference, he added.
“It does no use if it’s strapped to the front of your paddleboard,” he said.
Officials recommend people use a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when boating, kayaking, canoeing or paddleboarding in water deeper than your height.
Check weather and water temperature reports before venturing out. Dress for the water temperature.
Be aware of wave size and signs of rip currents — discolored, choppy water and foam-capped waves. Swim parallel to shore to escape the current.