Last 2 drownings on Dillon Reservoir share similarities related to afternoon storms, lifejacket use

Multiple agencies collaborated to find a man who drowned at Dillon Reservoir on Saturday, July 16. Officials believe the man, Miguel Mendez, 25, of Englewood, had been blown off his paddleboard as a storm cell created a microburst over the lake. The microburst separated him from his board and he was unable to keep his head above the water.
Summit County Sheriff’s Office/Courtesy photo

The last two men to have lost their lives on Dillon Reservoir died under similar circumstances. Both men were separated from their vessels during afternoon storms, and both did not have their lifejackets on when crews recovered their bodies.

One death occurred in June 2020, and the other happened Saturday, July 16.

The Summit County coroner identified the body recovered from the Dillon Reservoir Saturday as Miguel Mendez, 25, of Englewood. He is presumed to have drowned, according to the Summit County Coroner’s Office, but officials are still waiting on an autopsy for confirmation.

On July 16 around 2 p.m., the Summit County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call reporting that a man had been blown off his paddleboard. A microburst storm separated Mendez from the board. According to a press release from the Sheriff’s Office, witnesses said he had a personal flotation device strapped to the board, but he was not wearing it. A report from the Sheriff’s Office said Mendez was out with a group of friends who were making their way back to shore when the storm struck.

Paddleboarders do not need to wear a life jacket on the reservoir, but are required to have one with them. Colorado boating law requires all wearable life jackets be readability accessible to their respective boater.

The cold waters can affect how much time someone has in the water, which is why all recreationists are encouraged to wear their vests while out on the lake. Erin Sirek, a ranger with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, said the temperature of the water is cold enough to diminish muscle coordination. For that reason, swimming is not permitted in the reservoir. One may wade in, Sirek said, but feet must always be able to touch the bottom.

Emergency responders used specialized underwater side scanner sonar devices and underwater remote operating vehicles to locate Mendez. The release from the Sheriff’s Office said he was located under about 60 feet of water approximately 100 yards offshore from Roberts Tunnel, directly across from Dillon Marina. The Summit County Water Rescue Team, Summit County Rescue Group and Colorado State Parks Water Recovery Team assisted in the search and recovery of the victim.

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons expressed his condolences for the victim and his family.

The ROVs used by the Sheriff’s Office help locate objects using sonar that has a 90-foot range, special operations director Mark Watson said. Then a combination of cameras, remote-operated claws and tethers are used to bring the object to the surface, he said. The Dillon Reservoir is deep enough — more than 200 ft. in spots — that divers cannot reach the bottom without decompression chambers, he said. For that reason, in addition to general dangers of diving, he said the Sheriff’s Office often uses its ROVs for recoveries.

The last person to drown in the Dillon Reservoir was in 2020. The victim, Dillon resident Paul Kresge was located around 150-feet below the water’s surface, Watson said. He fell into the water in early June after gusts of wind and waves caused his sailboat to broach. The storm similarly struck around 2 p.m. and, on that day, 40 mph winds and 4-foot waves stormed the lake as sailors were returning from the Dillon Yacht Club’s regatta. Kregse was also reported to not be wearing a life jacket when he hit the water.

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office and its rangers on the Dillon Reservoir encourage all boaters to abide by state laws concerning life jackets and to exercise caution when storms are approaching. The Dillon Reservoir is a high altitude lake with unique weather patterns, Watson said. Storm cells can form along the Tenmile Range and drop onto the reservoir from the Tenmile Canyon quickly, he said.

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office has a free life jacket loaner program located at the boat launch in Pine Cove.

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