Family of 2 Missouri drowning victims pushing new law

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — The family and friends of a Springfield father and his 8-year-old son who drowned last year while boating in southwest Missouri are working to raise awareness of boating laws and safety, including changing state law to require more young people to wear life jackets.

Brian Keese, 36, and his son, Nathan, drowned in Stockton Lake during a fishing trip on March 27, 2010. It appeared the two were not wearing their life jackets when their boat capsized.

Their friends and family responded to the tragedy by forming the Brian and Nathan Keese Water Safety Organization to improve water safety, particularly at Stockton Lake. The organization raised $25,000 in its first year, The Springfield News-Leader reported.

Friends and family members can’t explain why Brian and Nathan apparently weren’t wearing life jackets when their boat capsized. Camilla Keese, the wife and mother of the victims, said since the accident she’s discovered that most states require 8-year-olds to wear a life jacket while boating.

Missouri law requires only those under age 7 to wear a life jacket. The Keese organization is pushing to have Missouri increase the required age to 16.

“If you have strong waves and a strong 7- or 8-year-old swimmer, they are probably going to have a lot harder time than a 15-year old,” Camilla Keese said. “I just think it makes more sense if they have a life jacket on.”

Rep. Charlie Denison, who is sponsoring the House bill, said requiring life jackets for children is like requiring seat belts or helmets.

The Keese organization also is working with the Safe Kids Springfield on a media campaign to promote life jackets. And it helped finance a life jacket station at Stockton Lake, which will loan free life jackets to people for use on the lake.

“If just one kid grabs a life jacket and is saved, we’ve done our job,” said Matt Molica, Brian Keese’s best friend.

Even if Brian Keese and his son had been wearing life jackets, they might not have survived in the near-freezing water.

Sgt. Jerry Callahan of the Highway Patrol Water Patrol Division said boaters should be aware of water temperature before deciding whether to go on the lake.

“We teach people it is good to have a second set of clothing with you; if someone falls in the water, get them as dry as fast as you can.”

Molica said the organization also wants to raise awareness about changing weather patterns, particularly at Stockton Lake. The morning of the accident, the weather was calm but changed suddenly, becoming too much for the 14-foot boat the Keeses were using.

Callahan said he appreciates the Keese organization’s efforts.

“I think the awareness they are creating will do a lot,” he said. “It’s a shame these tragedies have to occur. But if the event is remembered, it can prevent it from happening again.”

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Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com

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