Camas should take hard look at bridge safety after drowning death

As this newspaper was headed for the printer, we all received tragic news: a young teen boy, out for a late afternoon of fun with his friends, had drowned in Camas’ Lacamas Lake.

There are no words of comfort that can soothe the loss of a child, sibling or good friend.

The only thing we can do now, aside from sending all the love and support possible to 14-year-old Anthony T. Huynh’s family and friends, is to prevent another family from suffering the same trauma.

The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office said Wednesday the boy’s cause of death was “accidental drowning,” and police said Huynh had been swimming in the lake and jumping from a pedestrian bridge off Northeast Everett Street before he went missing. Divers found his body in the lake a few hours after his friends called 911 for help locating him.

Drowning in the Pacific Northwest’s often-frigid bodies of water is, unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence. According to a May 2017 Seattle Times article, Washington has the third highest number of annual drowning fatalities in the nation — ranking just behind California and Florida. The average number of drowning fatalities in Washington is 100, but that number often spikes during hotter-than-average summers. In 2016, the number was 180 drownings.

One of the things that makes our state and the entire Pacific Northwest so dangerous for swimmers and boaters is the deceptive water temperatures and sudden drop-offs in our rivers and lakes. According to Washington State Parks, cold-water immersion is a leading cause of death in Washington waters.

“Accidental cold-water immersion can kill a person within minutes,” the Washington State Parks website cautions. “Experts urge caution with water colder than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Water at that temperature is life-threatening when accidental immersion occurs – and many Washington waterways stay below 60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.”

Of course, Lacamas Lake is not known for its extreme temperatures. In fact, the lake is popular with teens because it’s not super cold unless you’re in the deepest areas. The one thing that could have contributed to this most recent tragedy is the fact that kids have flocked to the city’s new pedestrian bridge over Lacamas Lake on Northeast Everett Street and are using it as a platform for jumping into the lake.

The 150-foot-long concrete bridge was installed in 2018 as part of the city of Camas’ massive North Shore Sewer Transmission System project. It sits about 10 feet above the lake in a channel where Lacamas Lake begins to meets Round Lake and has lake depths — 12-feet-4-inches in one spot, 7-feet-2-inches in another — recorded on its side along with the words “No Jump” written on parts of the railing.

There is no doubt the bridge is a popular jumping spot for local youth. A Post-Record reporter driving past the bridge just last week was prompted to get out of his vehicle and snap several shots of children jumping and flipping into the lake from the foot bridge.

Most of the time, it’s just good fun, but jumping into a body of water — even from low heights — can cause serious injuries or death. Just last month, in Utah, a teen boy jumping off a river bridge only 8 feet above the water at a popular swimming hole was killed in what police there called “a simple drowning.”

If the bridge jumping did contribute to Huynh’s death in Lacamas Lake, the Camas City Council should take a hard look at what it and local law enforcement can do to make the bridge less appealing to young people in the future and consider implementing a strict no-jumping policy.

Enforcing a ban on jumping shouldn’t be too difficult. The bridge, after all, is in plain view of every driver on that stretch of Northeast Everett Street. Unlike many popular bridge or cliff jumping areas that are tucked into remote natural areas, the Lacamas Lake pedestrian bridge is extremely visible.

City leaders should look for ways to encourage safer ways for youth to enjoy Lacamas Lake and discourage the use of the pedestrian bridge as a jumping platform. The efforts could help prevent another Camas-area family from suffering an unimaginable loss.