One of North Idaho’s biggest attractions is also a ruthless killer.
Three people have drowned in the area’s lakes in the past two weeks. Two of the victims were young children.
The tragedies offer a grim reminder of the need for water safety skills when living in a region with more than 150,000 acres of navigable waters.
A family from Puyallup, Wash., lost their 17-month-old girl in Lake Coeur d’Alene’s Powderhorn Bay on Monday morning, when she wandered unnoticed into the water.
Sara LaBrash had been playing on the shore with her sister and other children while the adults worked on the beach and made dock repairs.
When Sara’s father, Robert LaBrash, took a 15-minute walk to a point on the bay, the older children thought Sara had gone with him.
Instead, she was discovered unconscious in the bay’s shallow water. Efforts to revive her were unsuccessful.
Her death immediately followed the drowning of diver Sean E. Eich, 31, of Coeur d’Alene, who disappeared Saturday in the deep waters of Lake Pend Oreille.
On Aug. 1, 6-year-old Leilana Tuau of Dalton Gardens drowned at City Beach after lifeguards had gone off duty.
While the circumstances of the diver’s death are unknown, the death of two children might have been prevented had they been wearing life jackets or had mastered some water safety skills, officials said.
“People really need to be educated on how to be water safe,” said Nancy Cavasar, manager and head lifeguard at Hayden Lake’s Honeysuckle Beach. “Ninety percent of the rescues are little kids that parents aren’t paying attention to.”
If parents can’t watch their kids 100 percent of the time, they can arm them with some defenses.
“What we try to promote on the beach, if you have nonswimmers, is try to have a life jacket on them at all times,” said Steve Anthony, Coeur d’Alene’s recreation director.
Better yet, teach them to be swimmers, or at least how to float.
Johnna Dick didn’t waste any time teaching her son Austin how to swim. Austin, now 3, was taking yet another swimming lesson Tuesday morning.
“My little guy has been swimming since he was 6 months old,” Dick said. She enrolled in a “Mommy and Me” swim class at Ironwood Athletic Club as soon as she could.
“My husband and I love the water. We’re on the lake a lot,” Dick explained. “My biggest fear is drowning.”
Swimming lessons are in huge demand in Coeur d’Alene. Dick takes Austin now to a backyard pool where the Earin family has been teaching swimming lessons for 17 years.
Nicole Earin, 21, and her sister teach about 70 kids every two weeks throughout the summer, she said. “We’re pretty much booked up.”
So are the low-cost lessons at City Beach, and the lessons offered through the Post Falls Community Pool.
“We’re limited with no pool,” Anthony said. “It’s very hard to teach swim lessons in the lake, because of the weather. It’s very unpredictable.
“We can’t start swim lessons until age 6. Younger kids don’t respond well in the lake.”
Post Falls Community Pool and the athletic clubs do offer lessons for children as young as 6 months, however. The infants can learn to float and some can even swim that young, said Debbie Brodin, an instructor at the pool.
But as the only community pool in Kootenai County, the Post Falls pool is pretty packed. Anthony is convinced that enough demand exists to fill a community pool in Coeur d’Alene, but efforts to build a community center are currently stagnant.
The project is estimated to cost $8 million, and supporters haven’t started fund raising.
As for what can be done now to safeguard children, Anthony is considering extending the lifeguards’ working hours at City Beach.
He’s asked the lifeguards to count the people on the beach when they leave at 6 p.m. Those numbers will help the City Council decide whether longer hours are needed.
In contrast, during the long, hot days of summer, lifeguards at Honeysuckle Beach often stay until 8 p.m., Cavasar said.
But even if lifeguards are on duty, parents need to provide children with other safeguards.
“With all the kids and all the water around, the lakes and rivers, they need to get their kids in water safety lessons,” Brodin advised.
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