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New Life Jacket Loaner Station in Richmond honors life of Madison County teen who drowned in 2020

Samantha Morrill

More than 100 people gathered in Richmond last week to mark the opening of a Life Jacket Loaner Station at Lake Reba. The effort was headed by the family and friends of Emanuel Prewitt, a Madison County teenager who drowned in Herrington Lake in 2020.

Two years ago Kelly Prewitt and her son, Emanuel, or Manny as people called him, both had the day off work and were planning to take a hike together. At the last minute though, Manny decided to go swimming with his friends instead. Prewitt said the last time she saw her son, he was sitting on the porch, waving goodbye to her.

“I patted him on the head, he had really curly hair. Kissed him on the head and patted his curls and got in the car. And that was the last I saw of him,” said Prewitt.

While swimming at the Point at Herrington Lake in Boyle County, Prewitt said Manny took a dare to swim across the lake.

“Evidently that lake over there, there's like a waterway where they were, where they were jumping off and stuff. It's like a rite of passage over there. The teens go and you know, ‘prove their manhood’ kind of thing,” said Prewitt.

Prewitt said Manny was a strong swimmer, but that didn’t make a difference in the lake.

“If you're in an open body of water like this, you don't know what currents are out there. You can't see under that water. And you don't know exactly what's under there. It could be fishing line, you know, there could be tree limbs, you just really don't know,” said Prewitt.

Manny went missing under the water and it took crews seven days to find his body. Three months after Manny passed, Prewitt said they held a dinner for everyone who was involved in the recovery effort.

“We had that thank you dinner and I got to talking to Colonel Eric Gibson. He's with the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. And we decided that we wanted to try to do something,” said Prewitt.

Samantha Morrill
Kelly Prewitt in front of the Life Jacket Loaner Station at Lake Reba in Richmond.

That’s when Prewitt discovered life jacket loaner stations. Basically, it’s a covered informational sign with hooks at the bottom holding coast guard approved life jackets in child and adult sizes that anyone can borrow, at no cost.

In an average year, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources responds to around 50 drowning deaths in the Commonwealth. Marcus Bowling is the Boating Education Coordinator for the KDFWR. He said most of those deaths could have been avoided if a life jacket had been worn.

“Out of 10 people that have accident on the water and drowned, eight of them have had a life jacket, and they're not wearing it. So that's, it's actually 86%. So that is a high percentage of people that's got something that will save their life. But just because they didn't have it on, lose their life,” said Bowling.

Samantha Morrill

There are now seven life jacket loaner stations in the state, and more are planned for Webster, Allen, and Jefferson counties. Bowling said initially there was concern that people would steal the life jackets. That concern was put to bed after the first month.

“People will actually bring life jackets and hook on to the station, which makes me feel really good. Because in law enforcement, you automatically think, well they're gonna steal the life jackets, they'll do something to the kiosk. But they don't. This is a really good program. And people in general want to do good things.”

Samantha Morrill

The kiosk at Lake Reba was completed with a sticker reading ‘Swim Smart Manny Strong’. Kelly Prewitt said her initial goal is to build 17 life jacket loaner stations in honor of her son.

“Emanuel was 17 when he passed, and we released 17 red balloons in his honor today, and his jersey number was 17 forever. It was actually a number in his social security number, like 17. The numbers one and seven have been around us for years. And I'm just now opening my eyes to see that, you know? I don't know, it just feels right to honor him in that way,” said Prewitt.

Prewitt said she won’t stop at 17, though.

“If we can find the spots where the teens are going where the adults aren't, and try to make those spaces a little safer. That's my ultimate goal,” said Prewitt.

Information on sponsoring a life jacket loaner station through the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources can be found here.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is a financial partner of WEKU.

Samantha was a reporter and All Things Considered Host from 2019 to 2023. Sam is also a graduate of Morehead State University and worked for MSU's Public Radio Station.
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