Sheriff warns safety, vigilance during Fourth of July lake festivities

by Nicole Brodzik
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For many lake goers, the Fourth of July is a day for celebrating on the water, making it one of the busiest days on Lake Minnetonka all year. Unfortunately, that has historically also meant a higher risk for lake goer accidents and injuries. A number of local fire departments are on hand to handle those emergencies, including the Mound Fire Department.

“We meet quarterly with water patrol to talk about everything from ice safety to the Fourth of July,” Mound Fire Chief Greg Pederson said. “Last year, the call volume for our first responders were significantly less than the year before, partly because of more control and enforcement by the water patrol.”

Pederson added that the use of safety lanes and the new emergency responders dock that was installed last summer in Minnetonka Beach were especially helpful for getting to and assessing emergency situations on the lake.

“It’s not just for enforcement,” Pederson said. “People have to realize that these are helping us get to injured people and emergency situations much faster than trying to navigate through the chains of boats that are all tied together.”

“The main purpose of that dock is for arrests and emergencies,” Stanek said. “It’s been really helpful to have that dock so close to Big Island because it can take up to 14 minutes to get to the pubic safety access in Spring Park with all the boat traffic.”

Stanek said that even though last year saw less incidents than the previous Fourth of July, he doesn’t believe that the holiday falling on a weekday had much to do with it.

“With Lake Minnetonka being right in the metro, it’s a population center,” Stanek said. “It might be different if you were going up north for the holiday, but with it being right where people live, it might be even more populated with it falling on a Tuesday.”

He added that he believes a better effort for messaging and vigilance by water patrol were major keys to those numbers falling off last year.

While the number of lake-related emergencies dipped, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department still had their hands full dealing with a number of other issues. From Saturday, July 2 through Monday July 4 of last year, the sheriff’s department handed out 19 boating while intoxicated citations, 58 underage consumption citations, two procuring alcohol for underage drinkers citations, one gross misdemeanor for providing false information to a peace officer and 83 boat and water safety citations.

Stanek said that people should be especially cautious on the water in high boater density situations and to call 911 immediately if there is an emergency.

He added that everyone on the water is responsible for knowing where everyone in their party is located, whether on a boat or swimming in the water, and that everyone should be wearing a life jacket at all times, but especially when in the water or while on a moving vessel.

“If people have family coming in and don’t have enough life jackets, there are half a dozen public safety areas around the lake where they can borrow a jacket for the day and then return it when they’re done,” Stanek said.

Another big issue Stanek sees during the Fourth of July holidays are people boating while intoxicated.

“Dozens and dozens and dozens of people will be arrested for boating while intoxicated this years,” Stanek said. “It’s the same penalty as if you were to get a DUI on land and it just doesn’t have to happen.”

On the environmental side, with concerns about new aquatic invasive species, such as Starry Stonewort, spreading throughout the state of Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources requires all boaters to clean, drain and dry their vessels before moving boats into new bodies of water. For more information on this law and boater safety measures, visit