Life rings save 4 lives in Berrien County


A new safety device is popping up on Silver Beach.

They are called "life rings" and the device has already saved four lives in Berrien County this year.

"It's a horrible situation if you think about, to watch somebody drown," said Berrien County Commissioner Jeanette Leahey.

Lake Michigan is one of the deadliest bodies of water in the country according to data from the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

That's because nearly 25% of all drownings in the Great Lakes take place near St. Joseph, Mich.

"We don't want anymore lives taken away by a drowning," said beach-goer Jen Tillotson.

Jen takes her kids to Silver Beach because she appreciates the county is concerned for and her kids safety.

"It makes me a little bit more comfortable to come here with those because if my kids are out swimming and I can't get to them in time, that saves them from drowning," said Tillotson.

Earlier this week, a 19-year-old man nearly drowned at Silver Beach.

The man's father threw the life ring into the water and saved his life.

Berrien County bought 12 life rings for the South Pier at Silver Beach, along with 20 spare rings for the future.

The rings went up in June. The total cost was nearly $4,000.

"That's a very small cost compared to what it would take to send a dive team out to retrieve a body," said District 1 County Commissioner Bob Woolley.

The Berrien County Sheriff's Department checks on the rings everyday to make sure they are functioning correctly.

Friday was Chief Deputy Mike Bradley's day.

"I actually had a family member drown in Lake Michigan as a young man," said Deputy Bradley. "So, it is kind of personal to me."

Several towns along the coast of Lake Michigan already have life rings and found them to be successful.

"There was an individual in New Buffalo that was saved by a life ring," said Leahey. "There was one in Grand Haven, a fisherman, who was saved by a life ring."

It took county commissioners between five and six years just to get the rings approved.

The neighboring pier is owned by the city and does not have life rings.