Toddler’s death at Prospect Park Lake sparks water safety awareness
Saturday’s drowning death of a toddler in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park has sparked a local effort to improve water safety in the city’s waterfronts.
Family members of 2-year-old Ruhshona Kurbonova stood by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at Grand Army Plaza on Monday, not far from where the girl’s body was found after she wandered away from her relatives.
The child’s body will be flown to the family’s hometown of Samarkand in Uzbekistan for a private burial on Tuesday.
Dilshod Isakov, Ruhshona’s father, spoke through a translator to thank the local police who helped the family, and for “getting this message throughout the city. They’re very sad and don’t want it to happen again.”
Part of driving down water-related deaths, Adams said, was spreading practical solutions through education. In Brooklyn, that means leaders will go out to waterfronts and lakesides to offer safety tips and educate visitors about locations’s rules.
Adams pointed to at least four other recent drowning incidents in the city, including Ruhshona, as evidence of the need.
On June 26, a 21-year-old man reportedly crawled through a fence opening at the Williamsburg bridge before he dove in and was swept away by the current.
Two Bronx teenage cousins died after diving into the Bronx River on June 20, prompting calls for fencing around the shoreline.
One day earlier, a 29-year-old man died after he jumped off a Coney Island pier.
“When you look at the number of people who are losing their lives,” he said, “the five people who lost their lives in the last three weeks — all of them were under the age of 30.”
While the city doesn’t have numbers available for the number of deaths by drowning last year, the Health Department reported 17 drowning deaths in 2012, down from 2011′s 25 deaths.
City officials are equally committed to offering access to swimming classes. The Parks Department already offers “Learn to Swim” classes free of charge and year-round for all ages at pools in all five boroughs.
The agency also indicated that swimming is allowed only at specific public beaches and pools with on-duty lifeguards — not at park lakes or other bodies of water.
“The frustrating thing about all of is this that 98 percent of all drawing deaths are not necessary,” said Shawn Slevin, founder of the Swim Strong Foundation, which is devoted to increase access to summing lessons citywide.
Slevin said the nonprofit offers scholarships for lessons for families below certain income levels paid for through donations. Most recently, the group received $42,500 from City Council members — primarily in Queens — committed to free swim lessons and staffing.
However, Slevin said Swim Strong also hopes to work with the city’s Department of Education to incorporate water safety into its outreach.
“No family should have to go through what you did,” Slevin said to Isakov.
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter @chestersoria