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Friday, May 6, 2016

Sudden storm drowns SL teen

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

DNR officer had warned 16-year-old half an hour before the tragedy

A 16-year-old drowned Saturday after high winds overturned the raft he was using on Storm Lake.

Luis Zaragoza, 16, of Storm Lake, drowned after an inflatable raft he was on capsized during a brief rain storm that moved through the area early Saturday evening.

An overturned raft and a swimmer in the water off the west side of the Chautauqua Park jetty were reported at about 5:42 p.m., according to Buena Vista County Sheriff Chuck Eddy.

The sheriff's office and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources responded. When they arrived, they were told that the swimmer had gone under and was presumed drowned.

A desperate search of the area revealed no signs of a person in the water. An intensive search was mounted, using several boats and personal water craft as well as spotters on the shoreline. The search was performed by the sheriff's office and sheriff's reserves, the DNR, Storm Lake Police and Fire Departments, a private citizen and the BV County Ambulance crew. A large crowd gathered in Chautauqua Park, and fire trucks were used to shut off the park road, while a rescue truck was driven directly onto the jetty in hopes the teen could be found alive.

The Okoboji Underwater Search and Rescue team was called in, arriving on the scene at approximately 8 p.m. Divers searched until 12:30 a.m. early Sunday morning. The search was suspended and resumed Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m.

The victim was recovered at approximately 7:55 a.m., approximately 400 to 500 yards south from the intersection of Lakeshore Drive and Lake Avenue, Eddy said.

As of Monday morning, the raft Zaragoza was using has not been recovered, Eddy said. It was an inflatable raft that apparently had been purchased earlier that day at Wal-Mart.

Eddy said witnesses reported Zaragoza had paddled out to the middle of the lake.

"That storm came up all of a sudden and capsized the raft," Eddy said, adding that witnesses reported seeing a raft blowing across the lake in the vicinity of Scout Park and Circle Park.

Searchers did recover a couple of cushions and a paddle from the raft in that area, Eddy said.

The storm stirred high winds for several minutes and a brief rain shower, a recipe for rough conditions on the lake. "There were some boats trying to get in and having a real struggle getting off the lake," Eddy said.

About a half hour before the accident, a DNR officer reportedly warned Zaragoza about being too far off shore.

"(The DNR officer) told (Zaragoza) to get back in to shore and told him he shouldn't be out that far," Eddy said.

According to Eddy, the DNR officer told Zaragoza to stay within 300 feet of shore. Zaragoza was seen paddling back to shore when the officer left, he said.

Zaragoza was alone on the water and was not wearing a life preserver, the sheriff said. A county medical examiner's report is pending.

The last drowning on Storm Lake happened in the summer of 1993, Eddy said.

The sheriff followed the tragedy with a warning.

"Make sure to wear life jackets out there," Eddy said. "Even if you're close to shore you should have some kind of life jacket."

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