The B.C. Coroners Service has found the 12 year old girl who drowned in Dawson Creek’s Rotary Lake had her foot trapped in a drainage pipe at the bottom of the man-made lake. The girl and her family were spending the afternoon at the swimming hole when the accident happened on August 13, 2016.
In her report, Coroner Adele Lambert found she and a few other children playing in the water were able to remove the bolts that were holding a cover over the drainage pipe, and the cover came off. The strong suction pulled the girl’s leg into the pipe, and her head went under water.
A family member and a bystander tried to pull her out but couldn’t until an attendant could be found to turn off the pump. She was resuscitated at the scene and taken to hospital, but she suffered significant brain injury due to a lack of oxygen and passed away in Vancouver on August 16, 2016.
An investigation into the girl’s death found a number of hazards at the facility, including not enough fencing, no supervision, poor water clarity, inadequate safety and first aid equipment, and a single main drain that created a suction hazard. Rotary Lake has been closed since, and it’s been recommended many costly upgrades be made before it reopens.
The province of British Columbia granted the facility an exemption in 1989 after the City of Dawson Creek argued it would be too costly to operate it as a swimming pool. Instead, it’s maintained similar to a public beach. Healthcare provider Northern Health recommended in July 2017 that the exemption be repealed, but no changes have been made.
The girl is the second child to have died at the facility, following a four year old who drowned in 1994. The coroner has recommended that the B.C. Minister of Health review the exemption status, making sure to address Northern Health’s safety considerations.
At a City of Dawson Creek council meeting on June 11, 2018, council unanimously passed a motion to support a letter from the Dawson Creek Rotary Club to Premier John Horgan regarding Rotary Lake. It asks for the exemption to stay as is, for permission to install solutions to suction and entrapment issues, and for Northern Health’s orders to be removed and all future ones reviewed independently.