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VIEWPOINT: State of Minnesota, localities must do more to regulate tubing

EAST GRAND FORKS -- I am the mother of one of the drowning victims written about in a recent Herald story and editorial about tubing on the Red Lake River ("Tighter take on tubing," Page A1, July 17, and "Tubing business tries to find right balan...

EAST GRAND FORKS -- I am the mother of one of the drowning victims written about in a recent Herald story and editorial about tubing on the Red Lake

River ("Tighter take on tubing," Page A1, July 17, and "Tubing business

tries to find right balance," editorial, Page A4, July 18).

It angered me that the pieces made the tubing company out to be such a

well-run business that is doing so many things right. In my view, if the

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company had addressed these issues after the very first drowning, there may

not have been four more. How can any business that has lost five lives in 10 years still be in business? That's my question.

There are laws in Minnesota about drinking and driving as well as drinking

and boating. There are laws that tell us to wear seat belts in a car and a

life jacket in a boat. But there is no law that requires teens or adults to

wear life jackets while tubing, nor is there a law that bans drinking while

tubing.

And as for any information about the river flow, the undercurrents or the

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drop-offs on the river bottom, you are on your own to figure those things

out; and if you drown, then apparently you should have used better judgment and not drank so much.

Every single improvement that was in the Herald story were things our

family has been talking to law enforcement about for the past 11 months. I

find it interesting that the credit is going to almost everyone except the

person who most deserves it: my husband.

If all of the improvements mentioned truly have been done, then I say,

"Great." That is exactly what we have wanted. But I do find it interesting

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that my husband continually has asked authorities and others for feedback on what is taking place, and not once were any of those improvements mentioned.

Besides, in my opinion, all of these improvements only are taking place

because of the tragedies and the negative publicity. The business and the

authorities should not be getting any praise because all of those things and more should have been the policy all along. After all, when you go to a

public pool or an amusement park, you hope they already have stringent

safety measures in place to try to protect the customers they are selling a

ticket to.

Our son and his friend were real people with jobs, talents, love for family

and families that loved them. They both had an entire church full of people

that cared about them and their families. To me, that is a testament of who

they were.

As the sheriff has stated, the river is very dangerous, and only proficient

swimmers should be on there without life jackets. To me, that means every

person should be on there with life jackets. After all, how many proficient

swimmers go there each summer?

As was stated in the story, alcohol and tubing are not a good combination.

But who has the ability to change this combination? That would be the

business, the sheriff's department and the county. They should follow the

lead of other counties, states and tubing businesses around the country by

taking such steps as banning Styrofoam coolers and beer kegs.

Pennsylvania has gone even further, according to USA Today: "While in many

states it is perfectly permissible to float down the river with a cooler of

beer in tow, Pennsylvania prohibits operating any watercraft, including an

inner tube, under the influence of alcohol," the newspaper reported.

"The Brandywine River is regularly patrolled by Fish and Game officers who

transport those suspected of operating under the influence to the local jail for chemical testing. If you are found guilty, the penalty carries a fine of up to $7,500 and two years in jail. Should a drowning be involved with alcohol, the fine can be up to $15,000 and seven years in jail."

Pennsylvania law requires life jackets, too.

State and local authorities should do a lot more to improve the safety of

river tubing.

Joy Austin is the mother of Darrin Austin, who died Aug. 22, 2010, in a drowning accident in Red Lake Falls.

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