Recent drownings increase concern for water safety with summer on the way

MATTHEWS, N.C. — Summer has not yet begun, but we’re already seeing a dangerous trend on lakes and rivers across the Carolinas.

Three people have drowned in the last week.

Cheraw police haven’t released the name of a 13-year-old who drowned in the Pee Dee River on Wednesday. The day before, 18-year-old Aveonna Smith downed in Lake Lookout and last weekend, 31-year-old Kadeem McGrier drowned in Lake Norman.

Rivers and lakes can be dangerous even for those who are careful and experienced.

On Friday, there was a training session on Lake Norman for rescue crews to help prevent future tragedies. Scanner traffic was part of the training exercise.

North Carolina Wildlife Sgt. William Laton said his agency is already seeing more people on the water.

“It’s just a great opportunity to train and prepare for something you hopefully never have to do,” he said. “Boat registrations are definitely increasing. We’re seeing a lot boats being bought, a lot of boats being registered, which translates to one thing -- more boats on the water.”

In 2021, the state said crews responded to 173 boating accidents across North Carolina. Twenty-five people were killed.

Laton wants to remind swimmers and boaters to be careful to have flotation devices and to call 911 if they need help.

“Gives us another nudge to be careful out on the lake this summer,” said resident Belinda Alexander. “We all got to be a little proactive in our safety. Like driving, you got to look out for the next person.”

Local pools advise children to have swimming lessons ahead of summer

As area swimming pools begin to open for the season, concern is high. Many people may not have the skills they need to stay safe in the water.

Channel 9′s Gina Esposito spoke with leaders at the Brace Family YMCA in Matthews on Friday. The facility’s waterpark opens Saturday, and the YMCA wants to make sure kids know how to swim before hitting the slides or any other waterway in our area.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many kids to miss out on learning to swim.

Ame Guy, associate director of aquatics for the YMCA, says if your child hasn’t had swim lessons, now is the time to sign up. She advices parents to get involved as much as possible.

“If parents can get in the water and play with them. They don’t have to do instruction … that’s where the comfort level comes from the kids and they start gaining confidence in the water and that’s what we want,” Guy said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children are at the greatest risk of drowning. They say kids ages one through four have the highest drowning rates and most of those happen in swimming pools.

Swim lessons at the YMCA are mostly full for May, but spots are still available for June.

Some branches do have a waitlist, because families are signing up for lessons at the same rate as before the pandemic. A shortage of lifeguards and swim teachers has made it difficult to keep up with the need.

More information on YMCA swim lessons can be found here.

(WATCH BELOW: Lifeguard shortage could impact your summer pool plans)