NDOW urges boaters to wear vests in wake of Topaz deaths

The Washoe County Sheriff's Office released this photograph of its search for people who drown...
The Washoe County Sheriff's Office released this photograph of its search for people who drown at Topaz Lake in Douglas County.(KOLO)
Published: Jan. 12, 2019 at 2:50 PM PST
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The Nevada Department of Wildlife is urging boaters to wear vests, saying none of the three men on a boat that capsized at Topaz Lake was wearing one.

The body of 50-year-old Jesse Gregory of Sparks was found 22 feet under the water after the body of 45-year-old Bert Peterson of Sparks was found. Another man survived the boat capsizing and was released from Carson Valley Medical Center after treatment.

According to the NDOW report, the boat began to take on water 150-200 yards from shore and the three men attempted to swim to shore. The survivor turned back and hung on to the boat until rescuers arrived.

The accident took place at the lake in the south end of Douglas County January 12, 2019.

Nevada Department of Wildlife game wardens coordinated with Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Douglas County Search and Rescue, Washoe County Search and Rescue, and the East Fork Fire Department to recover the bodies.

“This is tragic news,” says Tyler Turnipseed, Chief Game Warden for NDOW. “Obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to not only the families of the victims, but to everyone involved. These men were just out there fishing and having a good time, to have it end like this is heartbreaking.”

NDOW says when people are submerged in cold water, they only have a limited time before the cold water will cause a loss of control over hands, arms and legs, making it impossible to swim.

Turnipseed says the temperature of the water at Topaz Lake is in the low 40s, making it nearly impossible for anyone to have made that swim to shore.

“The average person would start to lose muscle control within the first few minutes,” he says. “We know it sounds counter-intuitive when you can see the shore, but your best chance is always to stay with the boat. Hold on and get at least part of your body out of the cold water and wait for help to come. Your odds of surviving go way up if you stay with the boat.”

Although children under the age of 13 are the only people legally required to wear a life vest, the Nevada Department of Wildlife strongly suggests everyone wear one on the water.

“Cold water or not, a life vest can make all the difference in a boating accident,” says Turnipseed. “The latest report from the Coast Guard states that 85 percent of drowning victims connected to a boating accident were not wearing a flotation device. You should always wear your life vest when you’re boating, kayaking or paddle boarding. You just never know what could happen out there.”