Teen drowns at Lions Beach
Rock County Coroner Jenifer Keach said the boy was pronounced dead Saturday afternoon at Mercy Hospital, Janesville, after local emergency crews responded at 2:20 p.m. Saturday with boats and divers to a report that a male juvenile had gone under while swimming in an area of Lions Pond behind Rotary Gardens, at 1455 Palmer Dr.
The boy’s name is being withheld pending notification of family.
The boy reportedly had been swimming next to a sandbar, near an unidentified girl, when the two started struggling in the water.
A man operating a small boat reportedly pulled the girl to safety, but was unable to locate the boy. The girl apparently was uninjured, police said.
Emergency divers from the Janesville Fire Department pulled the boy out of 15 feet of water, about 40 feet from the shore near a point at the northwest edge of Rotary Gardens. The boy had been underwater for about 33 minutes, the fire department said in a press release.
Janesville resident Ellen O’Brien was at Lions Beach when the drowning unfolded.
O’Brien said she saw a group of nearly a dozen youths go beyond the designated swim area at the beach. She said the youths then went into waters off the northwest edge of Rotary Gardens.
“It was obvious trouble when we saw them go out there,” O’Brien said. “I said, ‘someone’s going to drown.’”
Lions Beach, which is city-owned, is not staffed with lifeguards, but is marked with signs warning swimmers to stay within swimming boundaries.
Alex McFarlin, 11, of Beloit, said the scene was confusing.
“It was freaky. People were yelling. At first people thought it was a joke. But then everyone started running everywhere,” she said.
Janesville Police Department Sgt. Chad Pearson said investigators have learned the boy was among a group that was being chaperoned by at least one adult.
He said police have issued no ordinance tickets and no criminal charges in the drowning, but that the incident remains under investigation.
Pearson said at least one chaperone, an unidentified man, had apparently attempted to swim out to save the boy, but couldn’t locate him.
“It was so choppy, you couldn’t see down into the water more than a few feet,” said Karl Bailey of Janesville, who was fishing in a boat in Lions Pond when the drowning happened.
Polly Punzel, an event manager at Rotary Gardens, said she’d been dealing with five weddings Saturday at the Rotary Gardens, which borders on Lions Pond.
She said she was unaware of the drowning until emergency personnel showed up at the gardens.
A guest at one of the weddings at Rotary Gardens, a man from Milwaukee who would only identify himself as Shawn, said he was standing near the shore of Lions Pond on north end of the gardens when he saw an emergency diver emerge with the boy.
He said police asked guests at the gardens to clear the area, but that from another area of the gardens he was able to see emergency workers attempt to resuscitate the boy.
“It was right in front of me,” he said.
O’Brien said emergency responders, which included the Janesville Fire Department, the Janesville Police Department and the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, arrived with boats and crews quickly, before many people realized there was an emergency.
“The response was excellent,” she said. “They were on it.”