Alcohol a factor in recent drownings, coroner says

By MELISSA TOPEY Monday, December 14, 2009 12:18 AM EST

Two recent deaths in Sandusky Bay show water and alcohol do not mix.

Final autopsy results in the deaths of Dwayne Merva and Thomas M. McNerney show both men drowned in the chilly waters of the lake with acute alcohol intoxication as a factor, according to Erie County coroner Dr. Brian Baxter.

Results indicate Merva had a blood-alcohol level of .16 percent, and McNerney's was .17 percent.

Those levels may not reflect the actual amount of alcohol in the system at the time each man fell into the water because decomposition produces some ethanol, Baxter said.

Sandusky firefighters recovered the bodies of both men.

Sandusky fire chief Mike Meinzer, a firefighter for more than 30 years, said alcohol is a factor in the majority of the water-related rescues his department handles.

"They let their guard down and take risks they wouldn't normally do," Meinzer said.

In a two-year period through Dec. 1, 2009, his department responded to 36 water-related incidents. In three of those, firefighters pulled a body from the water.

He said there are more alcohol-related incidents in the summer because more people are on the water. During the late fall, it is mostly hunters, especially duck hunters who are out in their boats and prone to falling in.

Rescue workers recovered Merva's body from the docks of the Venetian Marina on Oct. 26 after co-workers spotted him floating. Merva was last seen Oct. 10 at area taverns, where friends say he had a couple drinks.

Divers from the Sandusky fire department searched the water four times, and cadaver dogs came to their aid.

McNerney was found in the waters by D dock at the Sandusky Harbor Marina on Nov. 13, the day he apparently fell in. McNerney was from Hudson, Ohio, but spent time in Sandusky on his boat. His boat was being winterized at the Sandusky Harbor.

After falling in, McNerney apparently tried to climb out but hypothermia set in, making it difficult for him to grasp the dock.

The third death on the water occurred in June 2008, involving a boat wreck between Lyman Harbor and the Venetian Marina. The collision of a 21-foot Sea Ray and a 41-foot Formula boat killed Ben Miller and injured several others.

Autopsy reports showed Miller had a blood alcohol level of .11 percent, but that reading could also have been affected by decomposition.

"It's just as important in boating to have a designated driver," Meinzer said. "Designate a sober person no matter what you're doing."

No comments: