RACINE – Law enforcement officials released the name of Thomas J. Walker, 40, of Missouri, as the man who drowned Sunday trying to rescue two children in Lake Michigan.
Deputies were called at 3:04 p.m. Sunday after Walker went into Lake Michigan near the North Pier by the large rocks to help two boys in distress. He helped the boys out of the water, but he never emerged from the water.
“He was a kind soul and an amazing uncle to his niece and nephews, family members said in a press release by the Racine County Sheriff’s Department. “And how we lost him is a testament to how great an uncle and an all-around guy he was. [We] never met a person who didn’t like him. He is missed greatly.”
“At approximately 4:01 p.m., the adult male was rescued from the water and emergency lifesaving efforts were initiated. The adult male was transported to Ascension All Saints Hospital on Spring St., where he was subsequently pronounced dead,” the press release reads.
Lake Michigan drownings cause for concern
At the time of the incident, the National Weather Service issued a warning for hazardous water conditions along Lake Michigan, which included the possibility of life-threatening waves up to five feet in height and dangerous currents.
“The Sheriff’s Office commends the heroic actions of the man who assisted in saving the lives of these two young children. Our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family, and his loved ones,” said Sheriff Chris Schmaling stated. We also encourage people to take the time to investigate current lake conditions before entering Lake Michigan and take all necessary precautions. This, like the other unfortunate drownings this summer, are tragic, incredibly sad, and preventable.”
Walker’s death is the fifth drowning this summer, the fourth that resulted in a death.
“In June, there was actually a total of four kids that went into the water,” said RFD Firefighter/EMT Brian Turczynski. “The same day, it was two kids at the exact same time. One was at Zoo beach. One was at North Beach. So those two kids unfortunately passed.
“And then three days after that, we had two other kids go in on the rocks — one lived, the other one passed. So every year, we have a handful of emergencies in the water.”
Rotary, Firefighters Union step up to get life vests, life rings on beaches
The Racine Founders Rotary Club, the Racine Unified School District, the City of Racine and the Racine Firefighters Local 32 partnered to establish three personal floatation device stations — two at North Beach and one at Zoo Beach.
Installed over the next few days, the station will have life vests and life rings. Currently, the beach has five spots for life rings. Officials wanted to focus on preventing drownings, not just responding to them.
“Kids don’t float,” Turczynski said. “We encourage the parents or caregivers to keep a close watch on their children when around water. Lake Michigan can have very dangerous currents and also big waves that make even the good swimmers struggle,”
In total, the five-foot-long, three-foot-tall stations house 12 life rings and 140 life vests, 50 for adults, 70 for youth and 20 for infants. Designed and built by Park High School students, the stations also house adult, child, and infant-sized life jackets for beachgoers. The life rings will be available for rescue purposes, according to a press release by the Racine Rotary Founders Club.
Club president Chris Terry said the firefighters were already working on the project when Rotary members approached them to see if they needed help.
“By the time we got involved in the process, Lt. Turczynski, Racine’s Parks and Recreation Department and a handful of other organizations were well into finding a way to add life-saving rings and jackets at the beaches,” Terry said. “We’re honored to have been able to jump on board and help make this happen quickly.”
Turcynski thanked the Rotary Club, the Sign Shop of Racine, the school district and the city for acting so quickly. But for Terry, it wasn’t soon enough.
“I can’t help but wonder, if we had gotten them out there sooner, would it have saved him?” Terry wondered.