Drowning prompts safety upgrades at Lake MI beach

Ottawa County

PORT SHELDON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — This year was the deadliest on record on the Great Lakes, with over 100 drownings. Among those who died was 20-year-old Brandon Schmidt, who drowned in Lake Michigan in August.

His mother Brandi Donley is now hoping to improve safety at Windsnest Park in Port Sheldon Township, north of Holland, where her son was swimming when he went under the water. She believes her son’s death could have been prevented.

“My family and I have suffered greatly over the last three months. I lost a huge part of myself that day that I will never get back,” Donley told township board members at their Thursday meeting. “There are no signs, no safety equipment, no emergency equipment and a lot of training and education that needs to take place.”

She said time was a factor in her son’s death. The police officers who arrived at the scene first did not have the training to enter the water, so they had to wait for help to arrive.

“The officers who were there apparently weren’t even trained to get in the water, even though they were first responders and they worked around the Great Lakes. You would think that would be a necessity; however, that wasn’t the case,” Donley said.

She pointed out what she believes to be gaps in safety.

“At Windsnest Park, there are no signs indicating there is no life guard on duty or that Lake Michigan could be a dangerous place to swim in. There’s no rescue equipment such as rope rings like in Grand Haven, no emergency call box,” she listed.

At the end of the board meeting, members moved to make safety changes at park. They’ll hash out the exact plans before they meet in January.

Donley said she is thankful she was heard and that she might be able to save another family from heartbreak. She is working with Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project to implement the changes.

“It’s a great opportunity, it’s not going to expend a lot of money and there’s people who have done this all over the Great Lakes region, mostly unfortunately because of these tragedies,” Bob Pratt, an educator with Great Lakes Surf Rescue, said.

The township board also voted to dedicated a memorial in Schmidt’s honor.

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