Boaters urged to avoid restricted areas

James Fogarty
James Fogarty

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

A boating accident along the eastern edge of Houston County has once again highlighted the dangers of venturing too close to roller dams.

On March 31, the body of drowning victim James Freeman was recovered a little over an hour after his boat was pulled into one of the gates of Lock and Dam No. 8 near Genoa. Witnesses said that the 52 year old Lansing, Iowa, man apparently tried to anchor in a restricted area. When the anchor failed to hold, Freeman attempted to exit the area, but the boat was drawn towards the gates and capsized before being drawn under the water.

Minnesota DNR conservation officer James Fogarty joined in the rescue effort.

“I was out there just checking fishermen,” he told the Argus last week, “and I kind of came upon it.

“Even though I was there when it happened, there was not much that I could do because it took him down and it didn’t let him back up until they opened the dam.

“They had to open up the number one gate on the Wisconsin side all the way. So I’m there with the rescue unit, but there’s nothing that we could do. Once that (current) has got you down, the undertow keeps you.”

Vernon County sheriff John Spears said that Freeman was seen trying to put on his life vest before the boat was drawn into the dam. “Tragedies like this are unfortunate and should not happen,” he told the La Crosse Tribune.

Fogarty agreed. “If people are unfamiliar with the river, or even if they are familiar with the river and are just being a little bit overconfident, the lock and dams are a dangerous place. You have that reverse current there.

“Some of the better fishing might be close to the lock and dam, but going up in there and trying to anchor is just too dangerous.

“There’s a lot of unseen risk when someone loses control of their boat, loses power, and they get sucked into the dam. It will take them straight down. It doesn’t matter if they’re wearing a life jacket, or all the safety equipment in the world in that area. With the dangers that that reverse current causes, your safety equipment just isn’t going to do you any good.

“It’s definitely a scene that I don’t care to go to if I don’t have to. I would much rather that people were safe and conscious about what the dangers are up there.

“There’s just no fish worth it. When it comes down to it, the most important thing for everybody is to go home safely at the end of the day.”