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DNR & Boaters Think Safety After Man Drowns on Coralville Lake

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa — There’s another reminder of staying safe on the water this boating season as one Eastern Iowa family copes with the death of a loved one.

According to the sheriff’s office, Somphaeng Syvixay drowned Saturday after jumping from his boat and trying to swim to the shore where there’s a diving rock. It’s not far from Bobber’s Grill.

Investigators said he and another swimmer started struggling. One was pulled from the water, but Syvixay didn’t resurface.

On Sunday, the scene at Coralville Lake was much quieter.

Emergency vehicles were gone, and people were relaxing in the sun. The incident, however, wasn’t far from the minds of the boaters.

“We saw the boats go by, the DNR go by, and the sirens and knew that something was up,” said Boater Kathy Harms.

Another boater, John Heiar, was also around when responders rushed to the lake. He has called Coralville Lake home during the summer months for more than a decade.

“Certainly, water is something you have to respect and when you hear something like that, yeah, it gives you pause and makes you a little bit more cautious and makes you, I think, be a little more aware of your own safety,” Heiar said.

The DNR confirmed that Syvixay was not wearing a life jacket. Spokesman Joe Wilkinson urges people on the lake to be aware of their limitations.

“It is not illegal to swim without a life jacket on a public lake in Iowa ... They have to make a conscious decision. What kind of a swimmer am I? What kind of conditions am I in?” said DNR Spokesman Joe Wilkinson.

Investigators don’t know what caused the drowning.

Harms said the strong winds kept her group on dry land on Saturday.

“We heard about what happened. We decided it was probably OK that we had stayed put,” Harms said.

Authorities may say tragedies don’t happen often on Coralville Lake, but the danger is always there.

“It could happen to anybody. Even strong swimmers, especially if they don’t watch what they are doing,” Boater Ron Conner said.

Many are doing just that. They’re taking note of their safety precautions as waves of sadness fill the hearts of many.

“I feel sorry for the families and the people involved,” Heiar said.

As for any alcohol related to the incident, The DNR said the boat operator was sober and autopsy results are still pending for Syvixay.

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