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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers focuses on water safety after increased number of deaths

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Sunday, July 24, 2011

CLARKS HILL, S.C. -- Clayton Brown faced the heat and hit the beach.

"I wish you'd turn the heat down out here a little bit," he joked.

He and his family hunkered under a tent along Thurmond Lake, but his kids hit the water. Brown says they did so safely though.

"Anything could happen to those kids out there. You could drown in a half a tub full of water," he said.

That's why Brown brought their own life jackets for the kids. But, if they had forgotten them at home, it wouldn't have mattered.

"These are our life-jacket loaner boards. These are actually the adult size now," said Ranger Krista McCuen, as she showed News 12 the dozens of life jackets that the park offers to swimmers and boaters for free. She's a recreation park ranger for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at J. Strom Thurmond Lake.

She says it's been a deadly start to the year at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) sites across the nation.

"We've seen quite a few deaths, and they could have been prevented if they were wearing life jackets," she said.

USACE has seen 57 deaths on property this year; there were only 39 this time last year. Of those deaths, nine have happened in the Savannah District which includes Hartwell, Richard B. Russell, and Thurmond Lake. Two of the nine have happened at Thurmond.

"A lot of people do not wear their life jackets, because they say that they're uncomfortable and they're bulky, but would you rather save a life or lose a life? That's how I put it," said Ranger McCuen.

The USACE says out of the drowning related deaths they've seen so far this year, 90% of the victims weren't wearing a life jacket. All the more reason for Brown's children and even Brown himself to wear one.

"You know, you [have] to practice what you preach. Why tell the kids to wear one and you don't wear one, you know?" he said.

Ranger McCuen also says that it's very important to wear a life jacket when boating. If the boat hits one wave hard, it could send a passenger overboard, and if they're knocked unconscious, a life jacket is even more important then.

She says education is key, and she says they're doing a lot of it out at Thurmond Lake.

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