After a drowning, watchful eyes at Minneapolis’ Wirth Lake

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 8, 2012 - 9:40 PM

Parents at Wirth Lake stayed close to their kids the day after a 6-year-old drowned there.

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Kissie Haynes of Minneapolis played with her son, Mizell Franklin, 2, in Wirth Lake. She kept a tight grip on him the entire time. “Better safe than sorry,” she said. “He’s staying right here [with me].”

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Curtis Hunt had only one rule for his three sons to follow Sunday as they splashed around in Minneapolis' Wirth Lake: Stay close.

That's always been his rule, but on the day after a 6-year-old drowned in the lake, Hunt was in the water watching their every move.

Authorities had not released the drowned boy's name Sunday, but several television stations identified him as Tony Caine.

He had been swimming in the shallow lake around 5:30 p.m. Saturday when a bystander spotted him lying on the bottom of the lake in about 4 feet of water not far from shore. The bystander began CPR as the lead lifeguard on duty raced to the beach house to call 911 and send a second lifeguard to begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation efforts.

The boy, who had been at the park with his family for a birthday party, was taken by ambulance to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale where he later died.

"Our thoughts are with the family and friends of this young victim," said Dawn Sommers, a spokeswoman for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Department, which operates the beach at Glenwood Avenue and Theodore Wirth Parkway.

Sommers said two lifeguards were on duty at the time of the incident, adequate to supervise the 30 to 35 people who were in the water at the time. She said they followed protocol, and she called the drowning "a tragic event."

Hunt was not too apprehensive about bringing Ethan, 7, Nathaniel, 5, and Gabriel, 3 to Wirth Lake on Sunday.

"Accidents can happen anywhere," he said. "But my rule is stay close, and that would not matter if there was a lifeguard or not. It was an accident that was not meant to happen. It was unfortunate."

Caine was the sixth person to drown this year in Hennepin County. Statewide in 2012, the number of drownings has hit a 10-year high, according to a state report last week. More than 25 people had drowned in non-boating incidents.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, members of racial minority groups were twice as likely to drown as whites. Caine, who was black, continued a disturbing trend in which high numbers of drowning victims in Minnesota have been minorities. In a two-week period earlier this summer, five of nine drownings were from racial minority groups. Four of them were children.

Experts say minorities are more likely to drown because they are less likely to have had swimming lessons and have less access to pools and safe swimming areas. Cultural differences and a fear of water being passed down from generation to generation can also play a role.

Saturday's death had nearly discouraged Kissie Haynes, of Minneapolis, from spending a sun-soaked Sunday afternoon at the beach. Instead, even as lifeguards monitored the beach, she kept a tight grip on her son, Mizell Franklin, 2, as they played on in the shallowest part of the lake. "Better safe than sorry," she said. "He's staying right here [with me]."

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib

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