Group pushes for return of lifeguards in South Haven

Southwest Michigan

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The family of a teen who drowned near the South Haven shoreline Labor Day weekend is sharing their story in hopes of making change.

Sue Chambers’ grandson, 18-year-old Brandon Chambers, disappeared while swimming in Lake Michigan off South Haven’s south beach Sept. 6, 2020.

First responders were able to rescue Brandon’s friend at a buoy about 100 feet out but said Brandon had tried to swim back to shore and never resurfaced after going under.

Six days later, Brandon’s body was recovered.

His grandmother said the loss was unlike any other.

“With Brandon, we never got to see him because there was too much decomposition,” Chambers said. “But at the same time, you wanted to be able to say goodbye and we couldn’t do that at all.”

An undated courtesy of Brandon Chambers.

Brandon lived with Chambers and other family in the Jackson area. The recent high school graduate was visiting South Haven with a friend when he drowned.

Chambers said Brandon was a strong swimmer and a smart kid, but that wasn’t enough to save him.

Brandon’s grandmother has since joined the group South Haven L.I.F.E. that is calling for lifeguards, among other beach safety measures, to be implemented at local beaches.

One of the group’s leaders, Kameron Daugherty, understands lifeguards would come with costs and liability but said it’s worth it.

“This is big deal,” Daugherty said. “What we’re talking about is adding another leg to our law enforcement community.”

Last summer, Brandon was one of three people who drowned in Lake Michigan off the South Haven shore. The first incident happening in June, followed by another drowning in July.

After which, the South Haven City Council created a beach safety subcommittee.

The group has met a few times, discussing several beach safety strategies.

“Over the last two meetings we’ve talked about not just increased signage, but … out-of-the box ideas like light buoys that indicate a change in flags in addition to the possibility of lifeguards,” Daugherty said.

Crews search for two men who disappeared while swimming in Lake Michigan on Sept. 6. (Courtesy: Sue Chambers)

Several members of the South Haven L.I.F.E group, including advocates like Chambers, were disappointed to learn that beach safety was not included in the city’s annual priorities list for the upcoming fiscal year, which was presented at a council meeting Monday.

Chambers said she was livid to learn the news, prompting her to send an email to the mayor.

“Certainly, it would be nice to hear from the City Council that if it’s not explicitly called out in the city priorities, how and where is it identified as a priority,” Daugherty said.

The council member assigned to the beach safety committee, Chris Campbell, and City Manager Kate Hosier told News 8 the ideas discussed have yet to make it out of the committee to be presented before all of City Council, which is why such topics were not reflected on the city’s priority list.

When asked about the timeline for when South Haven could see such change, including the possible return of lifeguards, Hosier said the process takes time as officials must review and discuss concerns such as liability, costs and training that would come with a lifeguard program.

Hosier said lifeguards aren’t the only topic being discussed by the committee.

“There’s a lot of good things that are coming out of the beach safety committee that have real value,” Hosier said.

However, for loved ones of drowning victims, time is of the essence.

“So, somebody else doesn’t go through what we went through,” Chambers said when asked about what drives her in this fight for change. “So that Brandon’s death is not for nothing.”

The city’s next beach safety Committee meeting is set for Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.

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