CHICAGO — Family members of drowning victims gathered at the Lakefront on Saturday to pay tribute to lives lost in Lake Michigan while marking a new law aimed at preventing future tragedies.

Amid the warm Saturday temperatures, city officials warned about Lake Michigan’s risks.

“This is a very substantial and dangerous body of water not to be taken lightly,” said Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward).

Evelyn Hernandez had a near-fatal experience with the harsh waters of Lake Michigan a decade ago. The rip current survivor said she was on a raft with her then-boyfriend Leonel Dominguez when the pair ran into some troubles on the water.

Dominquez was submerged and did not survive.

“We learned that there are offshore winds and the offshore winds pushed that raft out a quarter mile to the lake,” Hernandez said.

According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, 18 Lake Michigan drownings have occurred this year. Since 2010, statistics show that 1,087 people have drowned in the Great Lakes.

One of the lives lost was John Kocher’s young son.

“Nine years ago, we lost our only child Matthew to a rip current in Lake Michigan,” Kocher said.  

On Saturday, Alderwoman Maria Hadden (49th Ward), Illinois Representative Kelly Cassidy and Halle Quezada from the Chicago Alliance for Waterfront Safety honored all those who have lost their lives to drownings in Lake Michigan. All on hand also celebrated the Lake Michigan Rescue Equipment Act.  

Earlier this month, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed this law that forces the placement of rescue equipment, like life rings, along Lake Michigan’s access points and beaches. Along the city’s 22 beaches and Pratt Pier, 115 have already been installed.

“The law we have now is not for people that we’ll save. It’s also an acknowledgment that the people we lost deserve to live and we’re going to do better by them,” Quezada said.

Maria Diaz, who lost her son to drowning, applauded the state’s prevention efforts.

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 “Ten months ago, I stood here asking for life rings. Unfortunately, it was a little too late for my son Miguel Cisneros, but I know he’s celebrating with us this accomplishment,” Diaz said.

Brandi Schmidt drove from Michigan to partake in Saturday’s ceremony. Schmidt also lost her son, Brandon, to drowning in 2018 and has since advocated bringing the same water safety measures to her home state.

“I was able to get signage put in at Windsnest Park as well as life ring installed there,” she said. “What I’d really like to push for is more life rings across the lakeshore and kind of continue what they’re doing here and do in Michigan as well.”