Man drowns at Lake Sammamish State Park

June 29, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Eastside Fire & Rescue Chaplain Shelley Frey (right) comforts the wife and 5-year-old son of Geronimo Morales, 23, of Seattle, as paramedics perform CPR on him June 24 in an aid car and prepare to transport him to Overlake Hospital Medical Center. By Greg Farrar

Lake Sammamish, still cold for swimmers despite sunshine and balmy temperatures on land, claimed a Seattle man late last week during a family outing at the state park.

Geronimo Morales, 23, drowned June 24 just off the shore at Tibbetts Beach, a popular destination on summer days. Rescuers said Morales had been inside the designated swimming area with his wife and 5-year-old son when he became fatigued and disappeared into the lake.

Morales had been submerged for more than 30 minutes before divers recovered his body from the murky water.

Hugo E. Valdivieso, senior park aide and a 23-year employee at the state park, translated information from Spanish-speaking family members to rescuers in the moments after the accident.

Valdivieso said the boy had been floating atop a large inflatable mattress as his parents swam alongside. The boy slipped from the mattress and into the lake, and his panicked parents struggled to put him back on the makeshift raft.

Morales became exhausted and swallowed water during the struggle. He slipped beneath the surface — into 50-degree water between six and 10 feet deep — as his wife paddled back to the beach, with their son atop the mattress.

The beach has not had lifeguards since 2008. A spate of drownings in state parks across Washington in prior summers had prompted lawmakers to fund a lifeguard program. The state eliminated the program amid budget cuts last year.

Morales’ wife alerted park employees to the incident, and called a male relative, who then joined the family at the park. Eastside Fire & Rescue crews, as well as divers from the King County Sheriff’s Office, Mercer Island police and Bellevue fire departments, responded to the scene at about 2:30 p.m.

Medics performed CPR after pulling Morales from the lake, and then transported him to Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue, but he could not be resuscitated.

EFR Chaplain Shelley Frey comforted his family members at a picnic table near the beach. His wife and son sat wrapped in a light-blue blanket not far from bikini-clad sunbathers and picnickers.

EFR spokeswoman Josie Williams said Morales knew how to swim. She said alcohol did not appear to be a factor in the incident, although toxicology results from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office could take several weeks to arrive.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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