The 17-year-old Cleveland boy who drowned Sunday marked the 40th drowning in the Great Lakes so far this year, and a local woman is pushing for water safety education, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.
“I’m sad another young life has been lost; we have to take this lake more seriously than we do,” said Melissa Zirkle of Madison, whose 13-year-old son, Jermaine, drowned six years ago in Lake Erie.
At about 5 p.m. Sunday, Hector Lozada went under the water while swimming about 40 feet between two parts of the Conneaut breakwall, said Keith Stewart, an investigator with the Ashtabula County Coroner’s Office.
Stewart said Lozada was swimming with a cousin when he apparently got caught in an undertow, Stewart said.
Lozada is the third drowning in Ashtabla County this year.
Zirkle said she’s made it her mission to honor her son’s memory through water safety education.
“My main focus is prevention,” she said. “My son died in Lake Erie. Many people have died before and after my son in Lake Erie. If there was more awareness about drownings, my son and many others would still be here.”
On May 18, James Wells, 19, and 38-year-old Cory Althar, both of Geneva, drowned on a fishing trip offshore from the Geneva State Park marina, according to investigators with the Ashtabula County Coroner’s Office.
Statistics show 117 people drowned in the Great Lakes last year, and 88 in 2017, for a total of 780 since 2010, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.
Zirkle’s efforts, which include water safety classes for area students in partnership with the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, earned her the honor as the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium 2016 Water Safety Superhero of the Year.
“We need to educate the public about the dangers of the lake,” she said. “Waves look like a lot of fun to jump in and dive through until you learn about the real danger. We need to teach this in schools, just like we teach about fires and active shooters.”
Zirkle believes government and elected officials should push water safety education in the schools, including information on rip currents, structural currents, offshore winds and how to help someone who is drowning.
“I am working very hard to prevent another loss,” she said. “We need to come together and do better for our children. We need to be vigilant in prevention so we can protect them.”
The Ashtabula County YMCA in Ashtabula is the most accessible community resource to prevent drowning and encourage a lifelong enjoyment of swimming, said Trevor Sprague, executive director.
The Y offers several classes from beginners to advanced swimmers, as well as water safety and water rescue. Sprague encourages parents to take advantage of the Y’s accessibility and low-to-no cost.
“No one is ever turned away because of being unable to pay,” he said. “We offer swimming lessons as young as six months old through as old as one can be. It’s never too late to learn.”