2017-06-15 / Front Page

46-degree water dooms Traverse City man

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

The hazards of water recreation and the importance of boater safety were brought into focus this week when an 18-year-old Traverse City man drowned in West Grand Traverse Bay.

North Cummins of southern Grand Traverse County drowned Sunday evening while canoeing on the bay off Elmwood Township.

According to the Michigan State Police, Cummins and 17-year-old Isaac Marshall, also of Traverse City, were about 300 yards away from shore about 7 p.m. when the canoe overturned.

“I thought I was done for,” said Marshall, who thought Cummins was behind him as he swam toward shore. A nearby kayaker spied Marshall in the water and helped bring him to safety.

Cummins went down and never surfaced. His body was recovered later than evening about 500 yards from shore in 15 feet of water.

“They had been hanging out on the beach and decided to go out in the canoe and use a two-byfour as a paddle,” said Michigan State Police Sgt. Eric Sumpter. “They had been drinking.”

As if the drowning isn’t tragic enough, the actions leading up to the canoe overturning take the accident to another level.

“The survivor was concerned they had gone out too far and wanted to head back to shore,” Sumpter said. “(Cummins) began to rock the canoe to scare Marshall. That’s when the canoe flipped over.”

Cummins belongs to the demographic group most at risk of drowning, according to Susan Och of Lake Leelanau, a member of the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium.

“The most likely to drown are males, 18 to 24 years of age and usually alcohol is involved,” she said.

Throw cold water into the works, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

The surface temperature at the time of the accident was in the low 80s. The water temperature was 46 degrees.

“When you hit that cold water, you have one minute to get your breathing under control,” said Charlie Belanger, commander of the county Sheriff’s Office, marine patrol division. “After that you’ve got about 10 minutes of meaningful movement left.”

Marshall said his arms and legs began to cramp up as he tried to make it to shore.

A PFD (Personal Flotation Device) could have kept the men afloat until rescue personnel arrived — but they didn’t have them on and there were none in the canoe.

Belanger said the growing popularity of kayaks and paddleboards may be tied to an increase of water rescues involving such watercraft.

In July 2016, two kayakers were rescued from the water around Lee Point in Bingham Township.

Both were wearing life vests.

Just yesterday morning rescue squads were dispatched to an area south of Leland near Good Harbor Bay to assist a pair of kayakers on Lake Michigan.

Law enforcement was on the scene within 13 minutes. Fortunately, the kayakers made it back to shore before they arrived.

The continued failure by those involved in water recreation to use PFDs is not lost on Sheriff Mike Borkovich.

“I’m amazed at the number of people who use paddleboards, kayaks and canoes with a PFD when they know they’ll be going in water over their heads,” he said. “We’re overwhelmed with what we’re seeing.

“I’m hoping that something good can come from this tragedy and people will take and wear PFDs when they’re in the water,” he said.

Cummins leaves behind his daughter, Marley, who will be two months old Saturday and her mother, Autumn Roose.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to cover Cummins’ funeral expenses and to help support his baby and her mother as he was “their main source of income”

As of noon yesterday, some $900 had been raised toward a goal of $5,000.

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