With a limited number of area swimming pools reopening as a result of COVID-19 and sweltering heat beating down on residents for more than two weeks, the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office is encouraging those cooling off in rivers, lakes and other bodies of water unattended by life guards to err on the side of caution.
Lt. Mike Erhart said the office is hoping to spread the word after 8-year-old Tarie Price was presumably swept away in the Platte River on June 11 at Schramm State Park. A recovery effort was held throughout last week.
In addition to the Price river incident, Erhart said the sheriff’s office has seen a recent uptick in people needing help getting out of adverse situations. He referenced a June 2 incident that happened about a half-mile east of Nebraska Highway 50 on the Platte River.
According to information released from the sheriff’s office, a 73-old kayaker lost control of his vessel while trying to exit the river at a boat ramp south of Springfield. Holding onto the kayak while remaining in the water, the man floated a half-mile east. He was wearing a life vest and was subsequently rescued by the Sarpy County Office Search and Rescue Unit without suffering injury.
“He was clinging to a cottonwood tree that was in the middle of the river,” Erhart said.
The message he and his cohorts are attempting to convey is that all bodies of water can pose danger at any given moment. Compiling information from the American Red Cross, as well as members of the search and rescue team, the sheriff’s office recently released safety information relating to area rivers, lakes, sandpits and other waterways:
• Area rivers have undercurrents, sink holes, snags and debris hidden below the water line. Recent rains have caused rivers to rise, causing currents to be much faster and adding debris that cannot always be seen.
• Sand pits are on private property and people must have permission to access them. They can be up to 60-feet deep in some spots, have uneven shore lines with sudden drop-offs and unstable shores or banks that can cave into the lake if disturbed.
• Abandoned quarries are also on private property and require permission to use. They also have hidden dangers below the water line, like rocks and tree limbs.
• Water temperatures can vary due to the depth of the water, and hypothermia can set in quickly.
• These bodies of water have no lifeguards, and people should never swim or be in the water alone.
Currently, Erhart said there is extra emphasis on river safety because of the elevated water levels.
“We would recommend that, we can’t stop anybody from doing that though,” he said of people staying off of rivers when water levels are high. “It’s very highly recommended, though.”