Beach Will Get Warning Flags, Rescue Boxes

HURON, Ohio (AP) - The Lake Erie beach where four swimmers drowned will post red warning flags when waves are too high for safe swimming.

Rescue boxes with a life jacket, life ring and rope also will be added at Nickel Plate Beach, city officials said Monday.

The flags will help warn those who are swimming at an adjacent private beach and those who walk to the beach. The city already hands out fliers that have tips for safe swimming to those who use the public parking lot at the beach.

"One of the problems that we have with communicating with people at that park is that we really do not control the entire area," said City Manager Mike Tann.

Four swimmers drowned at the beach July 10 while trying to rescue a friend who had been knocked down and swept out by a current.

The beach, which has no lifeguards, was closed for swimming because of dangerous conditions that included 5-foot-high waves, but people were allowed to sunbathe and picnic.

Jehrod Smith, 19, of Sandusky; Steve Cupec, 27, Kyle Kroetz, 29, and Matthew Smith, 21, all of Findlay, drowned at the beach, which is about 50 miles west of Cleveland.

City officials said no one wanted to close the beach for good.

It is closed two or three times during most summers because of strong winds.

"Why should we take that beach away from those people who use it and use it properly," Tann said.

They also decided against hiring lifeguards because they would not be on duty when the beach is closed, he said. And there were questions about their training, he said.

"There is no way somebody who is trained in a swimming pool could have handled those waves," Tann said.

The flags that will signal no swimming is allowed at the beach and rescue boxes should be up within the next few weeks, Tann said.

City leaders said beachgoers need to use common sense.

"Personal judgment has a great deal to do with what happens," Mayor Ed Asher said. "We're trying to make safe beaches safer, which means that we felt they were safe before."

Alma Burge, who has a cottage on the beach, said there is only so much the city can do to keep the beach safe.

"No matter what you do, people will still get to the lake whether they are supposed to be there or not," she said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)