Jenny Duong clutches a photo of her son Gary during a special Council meeting at the Village hall Aug. 25.

Grief-stricken families ask Village to react to lake deaths

Mayor says Village will work to put signs up warning of danger

When Daniel Reid’s body was found in the Harrison River by a passing kayaker, one arm was stretched out. The other was clutched to his chest.

The man who found the body told Daniel’s father, Bob Reid, that the posture didn’t make sense until he found out what had happened. Daniel died trying to save his friend’s life. And Bob Reid says, even before they found the two bodies, he knew without a doubt that his son would not have left his friend behind. He would have hung on until the very end. Finding the body in that position just affirmed it.

The two young men drowned in Harrison Lake June 8 during an outing by eight friends on an inflatable raft. A single innocent choice by Gary Duong to take a quick dip in the water led to tragedy, with a world of sorrow and grief heaped on those left behind.

Bob Reid explains that after Gary jumped in the water to swim around a bit, the wind picked up and the raft started floating away. Daniel realized what was happening and jumped in to help Gary, while the other six occupants of the raft madly tried to paddle and kick back. But the wind was so strong, Reid says the raft was starting to flip into the air and they had to move themselves around the raft just so they wouldn’t tip either.

Long after they had made a call first to a marina where they had paid to have their raft inflated, then to 9-1-1, the friends could see Gary and Daniel in the water, struggling. They thought the two would have made it to the nearby inflatable water park. But by the time Search and Rescue arrived, Daniel and Gary were gone.

Bob Reid was one of several speakers at a special Council meeting in the Village of Harrison Hot Springs Tuesday morning, Aug. 25. About a dozen friends and family filled the Chambers as part of the newly formed group ‘Harrison Awareness’, some wearing shirts that said ‘the Dan’, or with ‘Gary’ and ‘Dan’ written in the shape of a cross. They were there to urge Council to put up warning signs regarding the cold water.

“My son died here. He shouldn’t have,” Reid said. “As visitors to your lake, we need to know the dangers. Our very lives depend on it.”

He told Council while they are “not asking you to wallpaper the lake,” there is a little part the Village does have control of and he hoped Council will take the first steps in doing something.

“Do what you can, do it as quickly as you can, and you’ll save lives,” said Reid.

Daniels’s good friend Jesse Heimsoth told Council that while they have heard locals say it’s simply common sense to know that the lake is cold, people coming in to the village from elsewhere do not know those facts.

“The hazards are not commonly known,” Heimsoth said. “The awareness message is something the public needs to know.”

Jesse’s father Jim Heimsoth spoke passionately about the need for education regarding the lake and echoed his son’s comments about what “common sense” means here. As an experienced boater on the Okanagan Lake, Jim Heimsoth said he came to Harrison to help in what he thought was a rescue the day after the two went missing.

“I thought I was here to find living people,” Heimsoth said. “I had no idea.”

He told Council that if an experienced boater such as himself did not know the dangers of swimming in Harrison Lake, then what locals are calling “obvious” common sense is not as obvious as we might think.

“You have to teach people in your backyard,” he said. “We have an obligation to warn people; there’s a danger out there.”

The group presented 600+ letters presented to Council from supporters of the Harrison Awareness campaign addressed to Mayor Leo Facio asking for action to be taken.

Facio responded to the group, offering his condolences and saying, “This is a terrible tragedy; we’re taking this very seriously.”

Facio said they would address the possibility of signage while adding that the Village does already have warning signs up and explaining that different authorities such as the provincial government would need to be involved in discussions. Gary Duong’s cousin Gordon Chan stood up after Facio’s comments, saying he felt that Council did not have the same sense of urgency as the Harrison Awareness group

“We urge you to share in our sense of urgency,” said Chan.