Five friends eagerly embarked on what was supposed to be a fun weekend of boating at the Lake of the Ozarks.
But in a horrifying crash earlier this month, three of the young adults, connected from their days in the Olathe School District, died.
Another friend, the boat’s driver, was arrested on suspicion of boating while intoxicated related to the death of other persons and serious physical injury, as well as negligent operation of a vessel. Yet another was hospitalized with critical injuries.
To call it a tragedy doesn’t sufficiently convey the heartache.
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Joseph LeMark, 23, and Daniel Lewis, 24, both of Overland Park, and Hailey Hochanadel, 21, of Olathe, were killed. Ashley Lamb, 21, also of Olathe, was seriously injured.
Preliminary findings from the crash showed that none of the five friends was wearing a life vest. Legally, that was their right.
In Missouri, as in other states, if you are an adult, a life vest is optional. All that is required is that vests be available for everyone on the boat.
All states set age limits for requiring life vests for children. In Missouri, anyone under the age of 7 must wear one. In Kansas, children ages 12 and under must wear a vest, an age requirement that is more in line with the rest of the nation.
In the aftermath of the late-night Lake of the Ozarks crash, unraveling the tangle of factors that ultimately cut short three lives may be an impossible task.
The boat reportedly hit a rock bluff. The boat’s driver, Hayden M. Frazier, Hochanadel and LeMark were thrown into the water by the crash. The extensive damage to the boat raises questions about whether life vests would have made a difference.
But the deadly accident highlights the reluctance of Missouri and other states to mandate that adults wear life vests while on the water. When worn properly, life vests can help save even an unconscious person from drowning.
It shouldn’t have to be said that donning a life vest in a boat should be as routine as fastening a seat belt in a car. Yet for whatever reason, lawmakers have been reluctant to tackle this issue beyond simply imposing requirements for young children.
Boat accidents can be just as dangerous as car crashes.
Social advocacy campaigns slowly shifted public opinion to support, then eventually legally demand, that drivers and passengers in cars wear seat belts. Why should boats be any different?
As Missourians and Kansans head to area lakes this holiday weekend and in the coming months, wearing a life vest on the water should become a summer ritual, regardless of your age.