July 26, 2010 in City

Deputies crack down on life jacket violations

By The Spokesman-Review
 
J. BART RAYNIAK photo

Exposed boulders at Flora Rapids on the Spokane River create an obstacle for river floaters below the Barker Bridge on Sunday. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has adapted a zero-tolerance policy regarding its mandatory life jacket usage law.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Hundreds of people had fun floating down the Spokane River Sunday, but 45 probably didn’t.

Sheriff’s Deputy Wade Nelson said he and two other marine enforcement officers issued about 45 citations for failure to wear life jackets.

The standard penalty is a $76 fine if violators don’t try to get away when a deputy on the riverbank orders them to come ashore.

Deputies have boats and trail vehicles to chase down scofflaws.

“There were a few people who, I think, thought about it, but no one actually ran today,” Nelson said.

A county ordinance requires boaters and floaters to wear life preservers between the Idaho state line and Plante’s Ferry Park, and in the stretch between the western Spokane city boundary and the Nine Mile Falls boat launch.

Just having a life vest handy isn’t enough.

“If you’re not wearing it, you’re probably going to get a ticket if we see you,” Nelson said.

“It’s why we bring ours,” Jamie Scott said. “Just in case.”

She was part of a nine-member, three-family group from Spokane Valley and Cheney that had just left the river at a take-out point on Flora Pit Road.

Dave Bailey said the group floats the river a couple of times a week when the weather is hot.

“It’s a really pretty ride,” Kassandra Bailey said. “You get to see a lot of Spokane.”

Nelson said several years of “emphasis” patrols like Sunday’s have gotten people’s attention. “Probably a majority” now comply with the life-jacket law.

A group of first-time floaters getting ready to launch their shiny new “River Rat” tubes near the Harvard Road Bridge had pristine life jackets to go with them.

“We just stopped down there at the General Store and bought a couple of floats,” said a woman who identified herself only as Britney. “It looked like they were selling out of them.”

A companion named Jason said enforcement of the life-jacket ordinance seemed like “a good idea.”

Spokane resident Mallory McCanna also equipped herself at the General Store when her friend Julia Komarov asked her to go tubing.

McCanna joked that Komarov was peeved when she bought a fancy high-backed craft that dwarfed Komarov’s inner tube.

“She calls it a yacht,” McCanna said. “It’s nice. They even blew it up for me.”

Both women donned life jackets as they pushed off.

With temperatures in the low 90s, several people pronounced the weather “perfect” for floating the river or just hanging out along the shore and splashing in the shallow water.

Ken Payne and Scott Turk said their two-family group floated on Saturday and came back to the Harvard Road launch area Sunday with folding chairs.

“We’re just kind of hanging out today,” Payne said.

“We go in, cool off and come back out,” said Turk.

Life jackets aren’t required for people swimming near shore, but most of the children splashing at the Harvard Road launch Sunday afternoon wore them anyway.

Bakaran Singh, 12, of Post Falls, said he tried floating in the shallow water, but it was “hard to do when there are rocks around you. It hurts.”

That’s one reason life jackets are required for people on tubes and other watercraft, Nelson said.

“Our river is inherently dangerous, even in low water,” Nelson said. “When your head gets cracked, you’re not going to come back up.”

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