Authorites urge safe lake use over holiday weekend


by ANDREW CHUNG / KVUE News and Photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

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Posted on May 24, 2013 at 5:25 PM

Updated Friday, May 24 at 5:41 PM

TRAVIS COUNTY -- Travis County Senior Deputies Russell Thompson and Michael Spinner patroled Lake Travis Friday, making sure boaters are safe and follow the rules.

"Lake Travis used to be notorious for having the most deaths in Texas. It was 12 to 15 a year. We were leading Texas for fatalities. But lately, it's been a whole lot safer," explained Thompson. 

While fatalities are lower, he'd like to get that number down to zero.

You can say it's a unique job the patrols have. Regardless of whether the lake levels are high or low, education is the key to keeping the boaters safe. That's why sheriff's deputies frequently stop boaters.

In a typical safety check Thompson will make sure the boat has life vests for everyone. He also checks for a fire extinguisher, a throw cushion in case someone falls overboard, and a signal horn or whistle.

Boat owner Michael Lawler and his passengers passed with flying colors, and he doesn't mind the safety checks at all. 

"I think it's great. I mean, without 'em, then people would be doing whatever they wanted, so I'm all for it," he said.

It's not just about boating safety Memorial Day weekend. Roger Wade, senior public information officer for the Travis County Sheriff's Department, says some people become overconfident when swimming in Lake Travis.

"If you're swimming out here, remember that it's not your backyard swimming pool. You could become tired in the middle of the lake and go under," he said.

Law enforcement officials say boating while intoxicated is just as bad as drunk driving, and they will prosecute drunk boaters.

The officials want everyone to use common sense when out at the lake, so everyone has a safe and fun ride.