Vest-Up: Family’s loss leads to life jacket giveaways

Meagan O'Meara-Clark drowned in the Clackamas River on July 5, 2013

Meagan O'Meara, who drowned July 5, 2013, seen in an undated courtesy photo provided by her family on June 23, 2017
Meagan O'Meara, who drowned July 5, 2013, seen in an undated courtesy photo provided by her family on June 23, 2017

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — With temperatures nearing or surpassing 100 degrees this weekend, people will head out to the water to cool off.

Rob O’Meara wants to remind people the water is swift, cold and can be dangerous.

Rob O'Meara and his family give away life jackets to honor their daughter Meagan, who drowned in 2013 on the Clackamas River. June 23, 2017 (KOIN)
Rob O’Meara and his family give away life jackets to honor their daughter Meagan, who drowned in 2013 on the Clackamas River. June 23, 2017 (KOIN)

On July 5, 2013, his daughter Meagan O’Meara-Clark was on a float trip on the Clackamas River when she jumped in for a swim not far from Carver Park. She went under in whirlpool-like water and never came back up. She was 26.

Since that time, her family has been on a mission to educate others about water safety, and they worry about other families on weekends like this.

The 4th annual life jacket giveaway in Meagan O’Meara’s memory is set for July 1, 2017 at Barton Park

In some spots along the river, the water temp is still in the 50s. Rob O’Meara said you should know the conditions before you jump in — and wear a life jacket.

On July 1, the O’Meara family is holding their 4th annual Life Jacket Drive at Barton Park and will give away more than 500 life jackets in Meagan’s memory.

“It’s like our heart going out to save somebody else,” Rob told KOIN 6 News. “We just don’t want other parents to have to go through it and other families.”

He’ll never forget that day, he said. Meagan decided to go for one last swim just a few hundred yards from Carver Park.

Rob said he remembers different moments: one minute he believed all would be OK, or maybe she hit her head and crawled somewhere or maybe even got out and walked to somebody’s house.

Divers looked for her for 2 days. On the 3rd day they found her body in an area called Kipling Rock in about 15 feet of water.

“Maybe if she had been wearing a life jacket that day she would be still here with us,” he said.

A lifeguard dives into the Clackamas River near Carver Park during training, June 23, 2017 (KOIN)
A lifeguard dives into the Clackamas River near Carver Park during training, June 23, 2017 (KOIN)

Lifeguards wear life jackets

AMR lifeguards at High Rocks were training Friday morning and they said they’re ready for a busy weekend. The water at High Rocks is about 59 degrees.

The cold water can shock your system, take away your breath and make it hard to swim. The lifeguards also encourage anyone in the water this weekend to use life jackets.

“When you jump into cold water unexpectedly people will lose their breath, sometimes they get muscle cramps and it can be kind of an overwhelming surprise, which can get even strong swimmers into trouble,” said Justine Kilsby, the program coordinator for AMR’s River Rescue program.

GoFundMe: Meg’s Moments for Life Jackets

She said their lifeguards wear life jackets when they’re in the water.

“Usually when we have an early warm weekend like this, we pull out a lot of people. Last year we pulled out 14 people at one park in one day,” Kilsby said. “So we’re really hoping that people are more prepared.”

For Rob O’Meara and his family, giving away life jackets is a way they feel they’re saving a life.

“We know that we’re doing something good,” he said. “We know that she’s watching down on us and that’s why we do it year after year.”

Meagan O'Meara, who drowned July 5, 2013, seen in an undated courtesy photo provided by her family on June 23, 2017
Meagan O’Meara, who drowned July 5, 2013, seen in an undated courtesy photo provided by her family on June 23, 2017