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‘Too early’ for cause in Maple Ridge drowning death

Paramedics and firefighters try to resuscitate a young man who drowned while swimming in Alouette Lake Thursday afternoon. - Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS
Paramedics and firefighters try to resuscitate a young man who drowned while swimming in Alouette Lake Thursday afternoon.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS

The B.C. Coroner’s Services continues to investigate the death of a young man who drowned while swimming in Alouette Lake last week.

The 21-year-old from Port Coquitlam and his friends were in a public swimming area in Golden Ears Provincial Park, where he disappeared under the water around 3:40 p.m. Thursday.

He was pulled from the lake by friends and brought to shore. Nurses on the beach administered CPR before emergency personnel arrived, but attempts to resuscitate him failed.

“It is too early to say what the cause was,” said Cpl. Alanna Dunlop, with Ridge Meadows RCMP, who are investigating his death along with the coroner’s service.

“It does not appear there is any indication of foul play.”

The man has been identified as Jacob Rutzen-Gibbs. He is described in his obituary as a devout Canucks fan, who loved the outdoors, road hockey, the Grouse Grind and Vanilla Coke.

Services for Rutzen-Gibbs will be held Wednesday, July 24 at 10 a.m. at Burquitlam Funeral Home, 625 North Road, Coquitlam, B.C. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Canuck Place, in his memory.

His death comes on the eve of National Drowning Prevention Week, which takes place annually from July 20-27.

The Lifesaving Society of B.C. and Yukon says 2013 is shaping up to be one of the worst years in recent memory for accidental drownings.

As of Tuesday, there have already been 44 drowning deaths in 2013, compared to 30 at this time last year.

One factor for the increase in accidental drownings this year is the  hot weather, said Wendy Schultenkamper, education director of the Lifesaving Society of B.C. and Yukon.

Metro Vancouver hasn’t seen a drop of rain for 25 days and forecasts predict the dry spell could break all-time monthly records.

Research also shows that 80 per cent of drowning victims are male, with a good portion of them being in the 18 to 24 age group.

“Part of that reason is young males tend to be bigger risk-takers,” Schultenkamper said.

The Lifesaving Society encourages people to take swimming courses and lifesaving courses.

Schultenkamper also recommends people get to know the area before going in the water.

“How deep is it? Is there a drop off? Is there an underwater current? A lot of time we don’t think of it,” she adds.

“We get to the lake and beeline it to the water without ever thinking what’s underneath water.”

A review of drowning deaths over the past five years by the B.C. Coroner’s Service shows that many victims are unfamiliar with the waters involved and, therefore, don’t see the risk or underestimate it. Those risks can include such things as unexpected currents, steep and sudden drop offs, or unusually high water levels because of heavy rains or late spring runoff.

In a fast-flowing river, six inches of water can sweep a person downstream and two feet can carry away most vehicles.

The Coroners Service also stresses that alcohol and water-based activities don’t go together, any more than drinking and driving do.

The review showed that fully 40 per cent of the victims were impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Safety tips

• Always wear a properly fitting personal floatation device when engaged in boating or tubing activities. Children, non-swimmers and weak swimmers should also wear a PFD when wading or playing in the water at a river or lakeside.

• Be aware of the area where you are planning your activities. Check the weather forecast before heading out, and also do a visual inspection of the area.

• Warn visitors about steep drop-offs, rapids and any other hazards.

• Alcohol and water-related activities do not mix. Alcohol impairs co-ordination and judgment, substantially adding to the risk inherent in swimming or boating.

• Always supervise children anywhere near water.

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