CHICAGO — The city is reversing its decision and adding life rings to the lakefront after a mother who lost her 19-year-old son to a drowning campaigned for change.
Maria Diaz has been pushing the park district to add life rings to Pratt Pier and other “non-sanctioned” swim locations while grieving the death of her son.
Miguel Cisneros, 19, drowned on Aug. 22 at the Rogers Park pier, a few weeks before his planned departure for Columbia University in New York.
“With all my grieving, I’m finding strength to fight,” she said. “He was just out there to help anyone. He wanted to study law, become a lawyer and come back to the Brighton Park community which is where he grew up.”
Witnesses said Cisneros, a St. Ignatius College Prep graduate, was struggling in the water just a few feet away from the pier — but friends could not reach him.
“He was screaming, ‘help me, I’m drowning, help me I’m drowning,” Diaz said. “They literally much had to watch him go under and die because there was no flotation device available.”
His mother and residents launched a battle with the park district to install life rings at all piers and other areas across the lakefront.
Rogers Park residents even put their own life rings on the pier after Cisneros died, but they were removed by the park district.
Initially, the Chicago Park District said they would install life rings at only “sanctioned swimming locations” at beaches and where lifeguards are present. But after more consideration, Lightfoot agreed with Diaz and the park district has reversed their initial decision.
“While I believe that we absolutely need to expand the availability of the life rings, they are not a panacea to being smart and limiting the risks of how you engage with bodies of water,” Lightfoot said.
Diaz hopes the pressure put on the city helps saves lives.
“Nothing will bring Miguel back, but my bottom line is I want to help other families that could come into this distress,” Diaz said.
The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, an organization that promotes water safety, said there were at least nine drownings in the last year in which life rings could have made a difference.