Life jacket ‘difference between fun day and last day’

Multnomah County

Officials said an 8-year-old boy who drowned at Oxbow Park was not wearing a life jacket

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The tragic drowning of an 8-year-old at Oxbow Park on Tuesday is painful for all, including a mother who lost her son in the same way in 2015.

The 8-year-old boy was at the park with his family on Tuesday. He disappeared while playing in the Sandy River not far from the boat ramp and a life jacket kiosk.

The rescuers who recovered his body said he was not wearing a life jacket.

Water rescuer crews along the Sandy River at Oxbow Park where an 8-year-old boy drowned, July 30, 2019. (KOIN)

Bonnie Peters, who lost her 13-year-old son in the Sandy River in 2015, was influential in making life jackets available to Oxbow Park visitors.

Aaron Peters of Port Angeles was at the park with a leadership group when he and other teens in the group decided to wade across the river.

He encountered a drop-off, was swept under the surface and died.

The Gresham Fire Department’s water rescue team helped with the search for the young boy on Tuesday. Firefighter Darin Labuda was in the water and knows the dangers first-hand.

“Walking in just a couple feet from shore, it just instantly dropped off and was over my head,” Labuda said.

He and everyone on the water rescue team wears life jackets.

“It’s very important to wear that and not be embarrassed, you know,” he told KOIN 6 News. “I get the fact that some kids, the peer pressure, they don’t want to look funny or, you know, made a joke of or whatever by their friends. But it’s very important to have a life jacket on.”

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Bonnie Peters stands at a life jackets kiosk at Oxbow Park along the Sandy River where her 13-year-old son drowned in 2015. (KOIN)

Aaron’s family worked with Oxbow Park to install a life jacket kiosk a year after the teen’s death. Bonnie Peters said she’s heartbroken over this latest drowning but she hopes their stories will help save someone else’s life.

“I really do encourage them to, you know, use life jackets because once they get pulled under there’s no saving them,” Bonnie said. “At least if they have a life jacket, they have a fighting chance.”

Officials said the Sandy River is still very cold and murky and the current can be strong in some places.

“I’m really hoping that people can understand that we can’t always see things at the bottom when we’re swimming,” she said. “Unfortunately the currents are really strong and kids most of all, even grown adults, can’t even fight those currents of the Sandy River.”

Rescuers eventually recovered the 8-year-old’s body later on Tuesday.

“I don’t think there was a dry eye on land yesterday around that scene,” said Labuda. “And, you know, definitely having a life jacket on is the difference in having a fun day in the water versus your last day in the water — that’s how important they are.”

Bonnie Peters thinks about her son every day.

“You know, he had friends, he was established, well established in the community. He was pretty much a role model for his peers.”

Peters said she’ll be praying for the 8-year-old’s family.

“I can only encourage the public to go over and get life jackets there,” she said. “We will still be working to get kiosks up in surrounding areas.”

Labuda said it “was a very quiet ride home yesterday back to our station. It’s very sad. It’s heartbreaking.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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