‘Play it safe:’ Father of drowning victim warns people headed to the water this weekend

May 26, 2022, 6:02 PM | Updated: May 27, 2022, 6:17 am

DEER CREEK RESERVOIR, Utah — If you plan on taking your boat out this Memorial Day weekend, be careful.

The number of drownings in Utah continues to increase.

Utah search and rescue teams stressed safety Thursday as Utah’s reservoirs plan for plenty of visitors this Memorial Day weekend.

It’s one of the most beautiful spots in Utah.

But even with all the fun people have at Deer Creek Reservoir, bad things can still happen here.

Leno Franco knows that about as well as anyone.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “That’s one of the dreaded phone calls I remember.”

Franco was at work in downtown Salt Lake City when he got that call.

Eleven years later, he can still hear the frantic tone in his daughter’s voice.

“She was saying, ‘Dad, we can’t find Kalem.’ And I said, ‘You can’t find, wait, run that back to me. What do you mean you can’t find Kalem?’”

His 17-year-old son Kalem Franco had gone to Deer Creek Reservoir with family and friends.

One time when he went into the water, he didn’t come back up.

Search and rescue team members found his body later that day.

“It’s a touching moment to witness that,” said Franco.

However, for all the bad memories this place brings him, Franco felt like he had to come back Thursday afternoon.

“It is a fantastic idea,” he said.

The Wasatch County Search and Rescue team, as well as workers with Intermountain Healthcare, were giving away free life jackets and talking to people at Deer Creek Island Resort.

They were stressing to anyone who would listen just how important water safety is.

“I hear it all the time. Everybody goes out on the water and it’s just never going to happen to me,” said Wasatch Search and Rescue commander Kam Kohler. “But it can happen to anyone.”

In the past few years, it seems to be happening more in Utah.

According to Utah Department of Health statistics, there were 45 drownings in the state in 2020, which is the highest number in a decade.

The average number of drownings in Utah is 33 a year in the past five years.

In most of those cases, the person wasn’t wearing a lifejacket because they didn’t feel like they needed one.

“We hear that a lot,” said Mardee Jones, who is the trauma coordinator at Heber Valley Hospital. “That’s probably the biggest reason why adults don’t wear life jackets is because they say we’re strong swimmers or we’ve been swimming all of our lives.”

However, you never know when you might hit your head on a boat and fall into the water.

Or maybe the weather turns, and the waves are strong enough to flip you off your boat and into the water.

Even the temperature of the water can play a factor.

Cold water could quickly cramp your muscles making it so you can’t swim.

“The average person that goes into 55-degree water and panics, we’re talking a couple of minutes,” said Kohler.

Franco admits his son probably felt invincible and didn’t need a life jacket.

That’s why he came here for this event.

He wanted to let others know you never know.

“The best thing a person can do is play it safe,” said Franco. “Don’t risk it.”

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‘Play it safe:’ Father of drowning victim warns people headed to the water this weekend