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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 1, 2010

Kauai drownings 'discouraging'

By Paul Curtis
Garden Island

LĪHU'E, Kaua'i For the second time this year, Kaua'i has been hit with multiple drownings in a short period of time.

There were three drownings in six days two at Kauapea Beach near Kīlauea, also known as Secret Beach, and one at Po'ipū. The incidents, occurring Dec. 23 to 28, pushed the island's drowning total to 11 for the year.

That surpasses the annual average of eight to 10, according to a water safety advocate, but is still fewer than the 14 recorded last year, according to The Garden Island archives.

In May, there were two drownings within five days, at Moloa'a and Makua Beach (Tunnels) at Hā'ena.

Monday's two drownings brought the island's December total to five. On Wednesday, county officials identified the two drowning victims as Corey Dunn, 20, of North Carolina, who drowned while snorkeling in the bay fronting Marriott's Waiohai Beach Club, near Po'ipū Beach, and Jason Fleiss, 41, of Portland, Ore., who drowned at Kauapea Beach near Kīlauea.

Everyone from Kaua'i County water-safety personnel to Kaua'i Visitors Bureau Executive Director Sue Kanoho to Kaua'i Water Safety Task Force member Dr. Monty Downs want every visitor on the island to know that in the winter on Kaua'i, any beach can be treacherous.

Residents need to take active roles in encouraging beach safety when encountering visitors, Downs and Kanoho agreed.

Both repeated the mantra of swimming only at lifeguarded beaches.

"That's number one, two and three, and four is don't go in the water without first checking with a resident," said Downs, who as a Wilcox Memorial Hospital emergency-room physician has seen his share of drowning victims, including several this year and this week.

"It's discouraging. It's like a slap in the face" when he goes to extraordinary efforts to try to make beaches safer and people are still drowning, Downs said Tuesday while on duty at Wilcox.

Eyewitnesses to Monday's drowning at Kauapea developed an instant respect for the work of KFD rescue and Ocean Safety Bureau professionals, they said.

Maggie and Dennis O'Neill of Brooklyn, N.Y., "saw everything that happened," Maggie O'Neill said.

"The response of the lifeguards was nothing short of amazing. And I really think that they should get a lot of credit for what they did," she said.

Surfers who initially rescued the victim's brother were on the beach warning the brother not to go back into the water to attempt to save his lifeless brother, telling him that KFD help was on the way, but he didn't listen, so was saved a second time by county rescue personnel, Dennis O'Neill said.

Kauapea in particular "should be put on a warning list due to its subtle dangers," said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua'i Visitors Bureau.

All those Kauaians in and out of the visitor industry need to help spread the word of the island's dangerous beaches, she said.

Kanoho also suggested residents give serious thought before answering visitor inquiries about safe beaches: "I encourage people to think about how they respond. Most visitors don't have ocean experience. Send them to lifeguarded beaches."