Body of one man recovered; search of lake scheduled
to continue today
AVON LAKE — Residents who kept a watchful eye on the shoreline near Miller Road Park led rescuers to the body of a 19-year-old man who went missing late Thursday while swimming with friends in the choppy waters of Lake Erie.
The discovery of the body Daniel J. Smith, of Elyria, meant that a second swimmer, Smith’s friend Brandon Glass, still was missing.
Police said shortly after
1 p.m. Friday that Smith’s body was found on the shore near a home on the 33000 block of Lake Road. It was about 14 hours after he was last seen swimming with Glass, also of Elyria, and an unidentified girl.
County Coroner Paul Matus said Smith likely drowned soon after he was pulled under the water. It was unlikely he could tread in the choppy lake waters, Matus said.
Matus said, as a matter of routine, a toxicology test will be conducted.
Glass, 20, was still considered missing as of 3 p.m. Friday, despite search efforts that spanned about 60 square miles, said U.S. Coast Guard Commander Tim Wendt.
The search was called off due to water conditions, and it was to resume at 7 a.m. today.
Smith’s body was found about 400 yards west of the location police believed four young adults settled on the beach for an evening of fun.
But the outing took a tragic turn when three of the four decided to venture in the lake.
Police Lt. Duane Streator said a frantic 911 call received at 9:28 p.m. Thursday from Smith’s girlfriend alerted authorities to the missing swimmers.
From the tape, released to the media Friday afternoon, the frenzied girl begged rescuers to hurry because she feared her boyfriend and his friend had drowned.
“I can’t find them,” she cried into the receiver.
The Avon Lake Fire Department immediately went to the beach in search of the men.
However, they soon realized the conditions were not ideal for searching. Four-foot white-capped waves pounded the shoreline, creating a strong undertow that threatened to pull anyone in the water beneath the surface, safety officials said.
Still, Fire Chief Bill Morris said four divers put on wetsuits and conducted shore to water sweeps of the area until midnight. That’s when water conditions further deteriorated, and the operation was stopped until morning.
“The sweeps of the water were as far out as they could walk,” he said. “With water conditions the way they were, it was just too dangerous to deploy anyone in scuba gear to go under the water.”
Morris said the strong undertow made even the walking water sweeps difficult.
By Friday morning, the conditions were no better.
Daybreak brought about high wind gusts, choppy waters and even larger waves that crashed along the shoreline. From the fenced-in area of the park, bystanders watched as the waves pounded three searchers wading in waist-deep waters.
At one point, the rocky waters forced a small boat dispatched from the Coast Guard’s Lorain station to return to the dock.
Watching the scene unfold was a hard pill for local pool lifeguard Matt Smith to handle.
Typically the go-to guy in an emergency, Smith, who is not related to the swimmer, said he grew up on the lake and respects its power.
“When the water is like this, it’s deceiving,” he said early Friday morning, watching the waves break over the wading rescuers’ heads. “People think they can just go out there, play in the waves and nothing’s going to happen.”
Based on previous experiences, Matt Smith said he believes the water near the shore is only about waist deep until the middle of the park’s pier. From that point, a drop to 10 feet deep shocks unsuspecting waders.
“When it’s this rough, it’s not good,” Matt Smith said. “After looking for someone for 25 or 30 minutes, you know the chance of them making it is small unless they were holding onto something.’’
As such, the question of why the swimmers were even allowed near the water was raised more than once.
The beach at Miller Road Park has no lifeguards and was not closed to swimmers when Smith and friends went into the water.
The nearest beach with a life guard was just a few miles to the east at Veteran’s Park, Mayor Rob Berner said.
“People cannot underestimate the conditions of the water,” Berner said. “Swimmers are expected to use caution and, if they see white-cap waves, to stay out of the water.”
Parks and Recreation Director Alexandria Nichols added that calm waters are the safest waters to swim in.
“All rocky waters should be considered dangerous,” she said.
Currently, Avon Lake doesn’t employ any sort of flag or warning system to alert swimmers that swimming is not recommended.
However, the tragedy could change things as current policies and procedures will be reviewed, Nichols said.
“Sometimes the water is smooth as glass, but it really depends on how the wind blows,” said Thomas L. Smith, a retired physician who has lived on the lake for more than 43 years.
Smith, who also is not related to the swimmer, lives near where Daniel Smith’s body was found.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|TOM MAHL / CHRONICLE
Friends of Brandon Glass and Daniel Smith look out Friday onto Lake Erie behind the 103rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Camp in Avon Lake. The body of Smith, who disappeared with Glass while swimming Thursday night, washed ashore Friday.
|911 audio from the Miller Park drowning on Thursday night.|
|Rescue crews recovered the body of one missing swimmer on Friday.|
|Rescue crews search for two men who went missing in Lake Erie while swimming.|