CHICAGO (CBS) — Beach weather is right around the corner.
And every year, dozens of people drown in Lake Michigan. One woman says she has an easy solution.
But as CBS 2’s Marissa Parra reports, it comes with obstacles.
Beautiful and powerful. Lake Michigan is a force of nature to be reckoned with.
“We want people here, but we want them here safely.”
It was three years ago that Halle Quezada’s fight for a safer Chicago shoreline began.
“On this exact beach, we were right over here.”
On July 6 2018, five swimmers needed rescuing in Rogers Park. They tried to help a 13-year-old girl. But she was couldn’t be saved.
“There was nothing that floated on the beach,” Quezada said. “I just remember the rage of not having anything there to help.”
That rage became fuel. She’s been fighting to make Chicago’s lakefront safer ever since. Her latest petition brought over 1,100 signatures in two days, pleading to the Chicago Park District to bring life rings to the lake.
“At this point, what we need is to show that all of Chicago is watching,” Quezada said.
A tipping point, she hopes, in what she explained has been an uphill battle.
“The Chicago Park District’s legal department is making the decisions and for them it’s easier to litigate if there’s no equipment,” Quezada said. “If there is equipment and it’s not properly maintained, our plea at that point is, well then, make sure you’re maintaining equipment.”
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Over in Kenosha, similar cries for safety after drownings brought life rings along Lake Michigan in 2019. According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, at least 48 people drowned in Lake Michigan in 2019.
Last year, it was 56. A third of those drownings were in Chicago.
We’ve seen how life rings have saved lives along the river. Last September, a life ring rescued a man along the Chicago River in Chinatown.
“We have life rings on our river, we have life rings at our pools,” Quezada said. “We deserve to be protected at our beaches.”
Every step she makes in her efforts, she’s thinking of the 13-year-old girl whose life could have been saved.
“We can’t fix that, no matter how hard we work, no matter how many signatures we have on that petition,” Quezada said. “But we can save the next life.”
CBS 2 made repeated requests for comment from the Chicago Park District, but those requests went unanswered.
Quezada said the next big step will be a meeting with the Chicago Park District on May 12.
The petition to have the Chicago Park District to Add Life Rings can be found here: https://www.change.org/p/ask-chicago-park-district-to-add-life-rings-at-the-lake-to-save-lives
Quezada argues that life rings are also cheaper.
“There’s the cost of rescue and recovery and when (the U.S) Coast Guard is deployed, it runs tens of thousands of dollars per hour,” Quezada said. “We’re asking for (life rings) every 350 feet (within Chicago boundaries.)”
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On May 12 they plan to bring letters of support from water safety advocates, ER doctors as well as Chicago aldermen.