Six-year-old drowns in SK lake

A six-year-old Bremerton boy drowned in Horseshoe Lake County Park Tuesday exactly one year after the previous death of a four-year-old South Kitsap boy swimming in the same lake.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office, where the victim was taken after being treated at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, identified the boy as Malachi Dewalt and determined he died of an accidental drowning after performing an autopsy Thursday.

Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson said the incident began at 2:21 p.m. July 15 when the child’s father called 911 to report that his son was missing and was last seen in the county-owned section of the 40-acre lake.

When he called for help, the father said family members had already been searching for the boy for approximately 10 minutes.

A deputy responded to the lake — located on Sidney Road SW, just north of the Pierce County boundary line — and discovered upon arrival at 2:32 p.m. that the boy had been located underwater and was unconscious and not breathing.

While South Kitsap Fire and Rescue personnel responded, the deputy and at least one female witness tried to resuscitate the boy, who was then transported to Tacoma.

He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 3:45 p.m. The day of the drowning, Wilson said that all indications were that the death was accidental.

No lifeguards work at Horseshoe Lake, although South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel said that “approximately four years ago” the county did staff lifeguards at three county parks with swimming lakes: Horseshoe, Buck Lake in Hansville and Wildcat Lake in Bremerton.

However, Angel said the lifeguard program was discontinued because the county could not keep the positions filled.

“People were bringing their children to the lakes and just leaving them,” Angel said. “It got such that we couldn’t get people to work for us.”

With no applicants for the positions, Angel said the county decided to eliminate them, especially when taking into consideration how much the program cost.

“It was costing us about $60,000, and we couldn’t get people to take the jobs, so we abandoned the program,” she said, explaining that even if there were interest in reviving the program, “the funding isn’t available for it now.”

Angel said she certainly felt the drowning Tuesday was “dreadful,” but that parents always need to take responsibility for their children and make sure they have lifejackets and supervision.

“It is a terribly unfortunate situation and I am just so saddened that it happened, but I don’t know that the government should be the one taking responsibility,” she said.

Angel said there may be a possibility of having volunteer lifeguards at the lake, but she said it would be a “big commitment” and require at least two people to be on-site during all the daylight hours, which she said is quite a long time in the summer.

Angel said the drowning this week was technically the first drowning at the county park, since last year’s death was not on county property but was in front of a residence at the lake. About two-thirds of the lake’s shoreline is surrounded by residential property, while the county park includes the remaining third of the lake.

That boy was four-year-old Hunter Black who apparently had been swimming about 10 feet away from his waterfront home on July 15, 2007, before being found floating in the water by two fishermen around 6:45 p.m.

Sheriff’s spokesman Wilson said that tragedy illustrated why young children should be supervised at all times.

“Little kids ... have no comprehension of danger,” he said. “You can never be too cautious in situations like this.”

Wilson said parents should not rely on the “goodwill of others” to keep an eye on young children in the water, and that precautions, other than flotation devices, can include making sure your child has swimming lessons and has a “buddy” with them in the water at all times.

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