SAUGUS — In the wake of an accidental drowning at Breakheart Reservation, swimmers are being reminded to only use the designated area of Pearce Lake to cool off.
Uwaldo Erazo, 20, had attempted to swim to an island in Silver Lake with two of his cousins Wednesday afternoon. About halfway there, he struggled and went under water. The cousins tried to find him but were unsuccessful, according to the Essex County District Attorney’s office.
A rescue team of Saugus firefighters pulled Erazo from the water after a search that lasted more than an hour. He was taken to Melrose-Wakefield Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Erazo was living with a cousin in Lynn at the time of his death.
“One problem is that an awful lot of people wanted to go someplace that was cooler and there’s only a limited amount of space,” said Peter Rossetti, chairman of the Friends of Breakheart. “That presents a problem. People say, ‘well here’s another lake, we can go to this other lake,’ but it’s not safe.”
Breakheart Reservation has two lakes and a large forest. Swimming is prohibited in all of Silver Lake and most of Pearce Lake. A small portion of Pearce Lake is roped off and patrolled by Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) lifeguards. This section of the lake is the only place where swimming is allowed, said DCR spokeswoman Olivia Dorrance.
Lifeguards are stationed where swimming is allowed from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day, she said. No swimming signs are posted where the activity is prohibited.
“The area designated for swimming doesn’t have hidden rocks,” said Rossetti, who cited the inconsistent floor of the pond as one of the hidden dangers. “There are other areas of both lakes that, if you were to dive in, you could get hurt, which is why they don’t want people to do that.”
In other areas of the lakes, the depth suddenly drops off in different areas.
“The upper lake has some spots in it that are extremely deep,” he said. “If someone is not a good swimmer and thinks they can just stand up in the middle of the lake — it’s not going to happen. There are weeds that grow that people can get tangled up in, and if they’re jumping in, there are a lot of rocks just below the surface. If you hit one, it can present a real problem.”
Above all else, Rossetti said there is little enforcement of the park’s rules. Lifeguards and park workers can tell people not to swim in prohibited areas, but they can’t force them, he said.
“State troopers have that authority,” said Rossetti, who said volunteers at the park want more mounted units patrolling the lakes, but face a funding issue. “In order to get mounted units, there has to be funding. If they don’t have the money, unfortunately bad things happen. It’s a sad situation.”
According to Mass.gov, drowning is the leading cause of death in children, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that from 2005 to 2014 there was an average of 3,536 fatal, unintentional drownings annually in the United States.
Erazo’s death wasn’t the only Fourth of July tragedy. A 13-year-old boy from Worcester died Thursday morning after he was pulled from Bell Pond in Worcester Wednesday night. The unidentified teenager was found about 70 feet from the beach in about 12 feet of water.
Last July, 35-year-old Roberto Martinez of East Boston was found underwater near rocks after he had been swimming in an area of Pearce Lake where “no swimming” signs were posted.
Martinez’s death came on the heels of another drowning in June 2016 in Lynn. Jose Angel Capellan Rodriguez, a 13-year-old boy from Lynn, who attended Breed Middle School, drowned at Walden Pond in Lynn Woods, where swimming is also prohibited.
In 2008, a Lynn Vocational Technical Institute sophomore, Shanequa McKennzie, drowned in Pearce Lake after she reportedly cut school with a few friends to enjoy the hot weather at the popular swimming hole. Lifeguards were not on duty at the time.
She and her friend reportedly jumped from some rocks and struggled in the water. Witnesses watched in horror and park rangers pulled her friend to safety, but struggled to find McKennzie.
Nearly five minutes later, she was pulled from the water and an off-duty nurse performed CPR until firefighters arrived. She was pronounced dead at Melrose-Wakefield Hospital.
Between rip current saves, performing CPR, and assisting distressed swimmers,
Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) lifeguards and other members of the department conducted more than 200 rescues or assisted in life-threatening situations during the summer months of 2016.
That year, two Breakheart lifeguards, Joie Donnelly and Shannon Daly, were honored for making back-to-back rescues.
Donnelly retrieved an unconscious swimmer from the deepest part of the beach’s guarded area at Breakheart on June 25 and performed CPR until the man was revived. He was transported to an area hospital and has since made a full recovery.
A day later, Daly saved a drowning and unconscious child from the water. The child had no noticeable breathing or pulse. Daly performed two cycles of CPR until the child regained both.
The American Red Cross recommends that people never swim alone, even when lifeguards are on duty. They should always swim in areas that are supervised, and avoid alcohol use. Alcohol impairs judgment, balance, and coordination and reduces the body’s ability to stay warm, according to the organization’s website.
Boaters are encouraged to wear life jackets at all times. It’s also important to call 911 during an emergency.
Fire Chief Michael Newbury said it’s important to remember the last place a person was seen when there’s a potential drowning. A grid-search method, in which a weighted buoy is dropped where the person was last seen, is used by rescuers to locate swimmers in distress, he said.