Douglas County officials are examining swimming regulations at Lone Star Lake in the wake of two drownings this summer.
A dive team Saturday afternoon recovered the body of James Nichols Owens, 30, of Tonganoxie who drowned while swimming in the county-owned lake. A 7-year-old Kansas City, Mo., boy, Osiris M. Lumanyika, also drowned on July 2 near the swimming dock on the lake’s beach.
County officials were already in the process of revising regulations for camping, fishing and boating in the park around Lone Star Lake, but now expect to expand that review and re-examine swimming policies at Lone Star Lake, said Keith Browning, director of Douglas County’s public works department.
“The two drownings definitely have to be a factor in it,” Browning said. “I don’t know that it makes us change the regulations at this point, but it certainly has to be a factor.”
Browning said this summer’s deaths are the only two swimming-related drownings at the lake that he can recall. The county has never had a lifeguard on duty at the lake, and it posts a sign notifying people they swim at their own risk.
Browning said county officials also encourage swimmers to be careful if they go too deep, use flotation devices if they can and for parents to watch their children.
Jerry Morton, whose family has had a cabin at Lone Star Lake since 1948, said he believed the county needed more supervision and enforcement of regulations to make sure people were only swimming in designated areas.
Douglas County Sheriff’s officials have called both drownings this summer tragic accidents.
Witnesses said Owens on Saturday afternoon appeared to struggle in the water in a part of the lake where the water gets deeper. Owens had jumped into the water from the dock in the swimming area and swam out several feet away into the middle of the lake’s northeast cove, said Cindy Dunham, a Lawrence resident who was sitting on the dock Saturday and called 911.
“He was coughing, and he looked as though he was struggling to stay above water,” she said. “I could really only see his head. He was there, and then he wasn’t.”
Sgt. Steve Lewis, a sheriff’s spokesman, said Monday that officers suspected Owens had been using alcohol, but Lewis said that was preliminary and that the coroner’s office would complete a toxicology report later. Dunham, who said she did not know Owens, did not see him drink any alcohol at the lake.
Owens’ brother Mike Gibson, of Oskaloosa, said Owens, grew up in Tonganoxie, drove a monster truck and would travel around the country performing in shows. He is survived by a 12-year-old daughter, Sydny, and his girlfriend, Rozie Reed, of Tonganoxie, who is expecting a child in September, Gibson said. Family members Monday were still waiting on information from the coroner’s office and investigators.
“Nick was a very good swimmer. He’s been swimming since he was 2 years old,” Gibson said.
Gibson was encouraged county officials were re-examining swimming regulations at the lake.
“I pray no other family has to go through this,” he said. “I know things happen, and everything happens for a reason. But if there’s something that could be done or something there, yeah, by all means I think it needs to be taken care of.”