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Local mom pushes for water safety measures after son's death

In 2018, Brandi Donley's son drowned in Ottawa County
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Posted at 9:52 PM, Aug 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-14 21:52:39-04

PORT SHELDON, Mich. — A West Michigan mom who lost her son in a drowning hopes state legislators take up a bill that would provide rescue equipment and beach hazard signs along the lakeshore.

According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Projects, 33 drownings have happened on Lake Michigan in 2022.

“Every time a drowning happens, it’s like a fresh wound,” said Brandi Donley. “It has a detrimental effect on me, my family.”

On August 15, 2018, Donley’s oldest son, Brandon Schmidt, 20, drowned at Windsnest Park Beach in Port Sheldon Township.

“He was a big goofball,” said Donley. “Probably the best big brother you could ever have. He was always with his siblings. He loved sports.”

She adds Schmidt knew how to swim and the water was calm the day of the incident, but he still fell victim.

“It’s soul crushing,” said Donley. “I lost myself… our family as a whole doesn’t feel whole anymore.”

At the time, Windsnest Park lacked information about water conditions and life rings, so Donley advocated for them.

The next spring, the township installed safety equipment and a billboard with water safety tips.

There have been no drownings at Windsnest Park since Schmidt died.

“Water safety in regards to rip currents and other dangers aren’t common sense the way people like to think,” said Donley. “The reminders need to be there, the educational aspect needs to be there, the awareness needs to be there so people can understand a little bit more before they go and enter the water.”

In May, Illinois lawmakers passed a bill that mandates public beaches on Lake Michigan put in signage about water hazards and provide rescue equipment.

Michigan has no such requirements, but Donley is looking for a legislator who would sponsor a similar bill.

“With Michigan being the Great Lakes state, I feel as though we should be leading by example and as of right now, we’re really not,” said Donley.

She calls the measures simple steps that can protect people.

“When we were losing two in South Haven and one in Ferrysburg, at that same time frame in Chicago, they were using another life ring from that bill and another life was saved out there while we were losing them up here,” said Donley.

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