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home : most recent : statewide implications August 23, 2017

7/29/2017 11:40:00 AM
Hoosier drowning investigators working to get all data about incidents
Life guard Caddidy Garner keeps an eye on swimmers at the Alexandria city pool on Thursday. The pool has five Olympic lanes, a kiddie pool and an intermediate pool. Staff photo by Don Knight
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Life guard Caddidy Garner keeps an eye on swimmers at the Alexandria city pool on Thursday. The pool has five Olympic lanes, a kiddie pool and an intermediate pool. Staff photo by Don Knight
By the numbers
Indiana drowning deaths recorded by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources since 2010:

2010: 50

Scott L. Miley, Herald Bulletin CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — State conservation officers annually compile statistics on drowning deaths in Indiana.

But some recent drownings would not have been included in the upcoming report for 2017 because not all incidents are being reported to the state.

For example, a retention pond drowning or a bathtub drowning investigated by a city fire department or local coroner may not be reported to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. On the other hand, a drowning in a recreational area likely would. 

On July 22, the body of 5-year-old Seth Fulkerson was found floating in a pool at a county-owned Evansville park. As of Tuesday, the death had not been reported to the state.

"The thing that we noticed what we're missing is that a young person who died in a public swimming pool, the municipality may have done the complete investigation, but we didn't collect those numbers so we don't know how to educate toward that," said Capt. William Browne of the Law Enofrcement Division of the DNR.

Water education efforts typically focus on swimming lessons, boating safety or life jacket use, but there could renewed emphasis on such issues as avoiding unsafe retention ponds or bathtub safety.

The DNR has long taken on the role as the central repository for data on Indiana drownings. It then uses the data in preventative and education measures. But the DNR slowly worked its way into investigating recreational drownings, leaving pool and bathtub drownings often to be investigated by local authorities.

In early July, DNR was involved in the search for Shalom Lawson, an 8-year-old boy with autism. Using DNR sonar equipment, the boy's body was recovered from a Brownsburg pond.

The agency's data is often used by media in news reports. The numbers given out are usually limited to drownings at public recreational sites and some pool accidents.

The DNR is asking the state inspector general to decide whether it has statutory responsibility in collecting all drowning data. If so, municipalities and perhaps county coroners, would have to report drownings, and possibly near drownings, to the state.

Reports also go to the state's Child Fatality Review Committee, an arm of the Indiana State Department of Health. Browne often reports on drownings to the committee.

The health department also uses data for education and prevention efforts, said Matt Scotten, deputy director of the Office of Public Affairs.

"While we at the ISDH cannot speak to what is or isn’t being collected by the DNR, the Child Fatality Review Committee and local CFR teams are able to access records from multiple agencies," he wrote via email. "They have no information difficulties."

DNR has hired a data specialist to compile a report on drownings, designate locations and find other pertinent information that officers can use in making prevention efforts.

"This comprehensive report probably is going to be the best in the country. When we're searching other states with what they're doing, we'll probably be opening their eyes to some of the things they're missing," Browne said.

2017 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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