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Boreal Community Media

2018 marked deadliest year on Great Lakes since nonprofit began tracking drownings in 2010

Dec 25, 2018 07:36AM ● By Editor

One of 11 life rings inside hard plastic cases is seen along the lighthouse pier in Michigan City. File, The Times

By Sarah Reese of - December 24, 2018

The death Friday of a 20-year-old Union Mills man marked the 42nd drowning on Lake Michigan and the 177th on the Great Lakes this year, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

Slater Harkleroad, 20, died after he and his friend were swept off the Michigan City Lighthouse breakwall by 10- to 15-foot waves Friday night, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

John Hammons, 22, of LaPorte, was able to swim back to the breakwall but was unable to throw a life ring to Harkleroad, who did not resurface, DNR said.

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued Harkleroad, who later died at a hospital.

Harkleroad, who was engaged to be married, had an "infectious smile and electrifying personality," according to his obituary. He was always willing to lend a hand, and loved his family dearly.

This year has been the deadliest on all of the Great Lakes since the Great Lakes Surf Rescue project began tracking deaths in 2010.

Harkleroad was the 117th person killed this year on all five Great Lakes. The nonprofit recorded at least 99 deaths on the lakes in 2016 and 2012, 88 in 2017 and 87 in 2011.

On Lake Michigan alone, 2018 was among the top four deadliest years since 2010. The Surf Rescue Project recorded 50 deaths on the lake in 2012, 46 in 2016 and at least 44 in both 2011 and 2018, according to its online statistics.

The Michigan City Pier Safety Committee — formed after the 2016 death of a 24-year-old Napanee man swept off the lighthouse pier while taking photos with his finacee — installed life rings along the pier. They have been used a number of times to rescue people in the years since they were installed.

The Surf Rescue Project said a total of about 740 people have died in all five Great Lakes since 2010.

The nonprofit advocates for water safety, including life rings, lifeguards and increased education. The group has given more than 700 presentations on water safety since 2011.

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