Man drowns as lifeguard funds languish
WAILUKU » If government officials had been quick to put lifeguards at Makena State Park, a visitor might not have drowned Sunday, a Maui activist said.
George R. Harker said funding for lifeguard service was authorized by the state Legislature effective last July but that government officials have delayed action.
Daniel L. Rawlins, 59, of Austin, Texas, died Sunday morning after he and three other men were swept 100 yards offshore by a rip current at a place known as Little Beach.
Rawlins struggled to get back to shore, started panicking and had an asthma attack, a friend told police.
The friend spent 30 minutes in rough water, then swam ashore onto rocks but lost sight of Rawlins, police Lt. Clarence Kenui Jr. said.
Kenui said the friend saw Rawlins' body floating in the water and ran to call for emergency help at 11:25 a.m.
Harker, who was at the beach, said surfers paddled out to retrieve the body before lifeguards arrived from beaches several miles away.
Harker said there was a riptide Sunday morning at Little Beach. "You could see the sand plume going out," he said.
Harker said that if lifeguards had been assigned to the state beach, they would have posted warning flags telling swimmers about the hazardous waters.
Harker said another swimmer was in distress later in the day, called for help and was assisted to shore by surfers.
The state Legislature authorized $606,000 for county lifeguard services on Kauai and Maui seven months ago, including $406,000 for Makena State Park.
Harker said the money was put into the budget by state Sen. Rosalyn Baker in response to a history of injuries.
Besides Little Beach, the shorebreak at nearby Big Beach is known for causing back and neck injuries, Harker said.
Harker said he sent a letter of complaint to Gov. Linda Lingle and was advised to contact the state attorney general's office.
County Parks Director Tamara Horcajo said her department is waiting for the state to send it a revised contract.
Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the Board of Land and Natural Resources, said the state and county both share a deep concern for safety of beachgoers at Makena Beach.
"We give our condolences to the families involved in Sunday's drowning," Ward said. "We encourage all people to respect the power of the ocean and to be extremely cautious and heed warning signs at public beaches."
Ward said warning signs are posted at multiple locations in Makena State Park to alert the public of shoreline hazards, such as shorebreak or undertow.
"We are continuing to work with the county to provide lifeguard services at this beach as rapidly as possible," she said.
Harker said he began lobbying for lifeguard services at the park after witnessing the death of Richard McKeon Young of Idaho in rough surf four years ago.
He said he has witnessed three deaths in waters off the state beach at Makena and that the latest could have been avoided.
"This was a preventable drowning," Harker said. "Lifeguards would have noted dangerous conditions. Lifeguards situated in the area could have responded in minutes to the initial 911 call."