Drownings are rare in Racine County. They are even rarer in public waters like Lake Michigan without a compounding factor, such as an unrelated medical event preceding a drowning.
Never in the past four years prior to last month has a drowning in Racine County been attributed to a rip current. But rip currents were a factor in all three deaths in June, according to the Racine County Medical Examiner’s Office.
That’s part of what made the three youths who died in unrelated drowning events last month so shocking.
Officials have said it’s practically impossible to be prepared for a rip current since they can seemingly come out of nowhere.
“Riptides are very unpredictable,” Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said during a press conference June 22.
It’s especially true in Lake Michigan, which consistently has been involved in more deaths than any of the other four Great Lakes.
In 2015, the Grand Rapids Press published a story with the headline “Why Lake Michigan is the most dangerous Great Lake,” linking the dangers of the lake to swift currents. “Lake Michigan’s distinctive configuration — as a 307-mile long lake with twin, uninterrupted shorelines running north to south — make it especially vulnerable to two dangerous types of currents, called rip and longshore.”
High winds often strengthen those currents. As the Grand Rapids Press report noted: “Most of the water rescues and drownings fall under a category called ‘classic rip.’ As an increasing amount of water is forced ashore by high winds, it has to eventually escape. A rip current forms when water begins surging away from the beach and out to mid-lake.”
Sgt. Daniel Luedtke, one of 15 members of the Racine County Sheriff’s Dive Team, last week referred to rip currents as “washing machines” since they “work in a cylindrical manner.”
From July 2017 through June 2021, there have been 14 drowning deaths in Racine County, according to a report of accidental drownings provided to The Journal Times by the Racine County Medical Examiner’s Office. Michael Payne, medical examiner, said records dating back prior to July 2017 are tougher to access, since they are not recorded digitally.
Last month’s three deaths were the only three out of those 14 that were in Lake Michigan.
All three were also attributed to rip currents. None of the other 11 drowning deaths in the past four years have been attributed to rip currents.
The death of Eisha “Nahomy” Figuereo-Colon, a 10-year-old who died after being pulled from Lake Michigan on June 19, was attributed to her not being able to swim, in addition to the rip current. Only two other drowning deaths in Racine County the past 48 months have been attributed to the deceased not being able to swim: Daryle Neal Jr., a 14-year-old who on Independence Day 2017 drowned in the Root River near Washington Park, and 4-year-old Tyrice Creed who died on Aug. 21, 2017, in Brown’s Lake at Fischer Park in Burlington.
Racine County’s other accidental drowning deaths since July 1, 2017, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office, include:
- July 19, 2017: Female, 52, died in residence with contributing factor of alcohol intoxication.
- Sept. 20, 2017:
, fell into a pond near his Kansasville home after huffing Difluoroethane, which is used in some aerosol sprays
- Dec. 11, 2017:
- , 46, crashed his truck into a pond near Highway 31 after suffering a seizure and died in the water.
- June 2, 2018: Male, 30, suffered a seizure during a hydrotherapy bath at the Southern Wisconsin Center in the Town of Dover.
- July 29, 2018:
- , died in the Root River near Fifth Street Yacht Club with contributing factors of alcohol and cocaine intoxication.
- Sept. 21, 2018: Male, 30, suffered seizure while bathing at home.
- May 5, 2019: Tony Taylor, a 52-year-old man from Zion, Illinois,
- after “suffering a medical emergency” as he was fishing.
- June 27, 2020:
- , 61, wasn’t wearing life jacket while drinking and kayaking on Wind Lake.
Not included in that report was the Oct. 6, 2018 death of Thomas S. Lattomus, 80, of Janesville, who is believed to have died of hypothermia in Lake Michigan near the Racine Yacht Club.
Dating back to 2010, according to data from the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project and the City of Racine, there have been 10 total deaths in Lake Michigan near Racine since 2010. However, that number does include suicides and other non-accidental drownings.
There was one Racine drowning in Lake Michigan in 2010, two in 2011, one in 2013, two to 2017, two in 2018 and one in 2020.
Those deaths make up a small percentage of drowning deaths in Lake Michigan and across the Great Lakes.
Since 2010, 437 people have died in Lake Michigan and 509 have died in the other four Great Lakes, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.
The numbers of deaths per year also vary widely, from 54 total deaths in the Great Lakes in 2014 up to 117 total in 2018.
Photos: Firefighters hit the water at Eagle Lake to train for life-saving ice rescues
Firefighters Andrew Crain and Ryan Hoover try their noodle technique
Firefighters in the water for ice rescue training
Instructor Paul Vind leads ice rescue training for firefightes
Two firefighters practice rescue techniques on frozen Eagle Lake
Sponsor Brett Nielsen of Educators Credit Union emerges from water
Firefighters use a rope to pull two people to safety in ice rescue training
Tom Kalbas and Matt Callies fill inflatable rescue device for ice rescues
Jim Lynch firefighter emerges from water during ice rescue training
Team of firefighters pull rope tethered to firefighter in ice rescue training
Instructor shows how to rescue victim from open water on frozen lake
Firefighters practice rescue at water's edge in Eagle Lake
Two pulled from water in ice rescue training for area firefighers on Eagle Lake
Diana Panuncial contributed to this report.