Two missing, two drownings in Lake Travis in 6 weeks

Groups provide loaner life jackets, safety tips

By LESLEE BASSMAN, Four Points News

With four individuals either missing or drowned on Lake Travis since early-May, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office has already had a very tragic start to the summer season. Officials stress safety tips for boating

Ricardo Sierra Martinez, 27, of Mexico went missing June 10 after friends reported seeing him relaxing on a small island that he swam to in Lake Travis, not far from the point at Bob Wentz Park, according to Kristen Dark, TCSO senior public information officer.

Friends witnessed the man arrive safely and saw him relaxing on land. According to their statements, approximately 30-45 minutes later, the friends looked back at the island and didn’t see him,” the TCSO release stated.

Marinez’s body was found last week on June 12 on the park’s shoreline. TCSO’s investigation points to drowning, the release stated.

Manuel Salas, 53, of Elgin and Rachel Kathleen Scott, 25, of Round Rock—after being last seen on Lake Travis on May 5 and May 19, respectively—are still missing, as of June 18. Salas was reported missing near Mansfield Dam Park, and it was reported that Scott fell off of a party boat between Starnes Island and Volente Beach, Dark said.

The body of Diego Humberto Cerda-Acosta, 30, of Austin, who went missing in the water near Bob Wentz Park on May 27, was found May 28, according to TCSO.

Looking at prior years, there were four drownings reported on Lake Travis during 2017, with seven drownings reported in 2016 and eight drownings occurring in 2011, Dark said.

“It is not unprecedented for us to have several people drown or go missing on Lake Travis in close succession,” she said. “It has just been several years since we’ve seen it happen.”

Life jackets save lives

“The one common denominator amongst all who have drowned or gone missing (in Lake Travis)is that they were not wearing a life jacket,” Dark said. “There are free life jacket loaner stations in Travis County Parks.”

The county manages eight parks around Lake Travis, Travis County Chief Park Ranger Dan Chapman said. Most of the swimmers who access the lake gain that access through parks maintained by Travis County, he said.

In 2009, Travis County Parks was approached by Safe Kids — a nonprofit organization aimed at helping families and communities keep children safe from injuries — to initiate a life jacket loaner program, Chapman said. The county has equipped three such stations in Mansfield Dam Park, Bob Wentz Park and Hamilton Pool Preserve, he said, adding Mansfield Dam is “by far the most popular boat ramp on the lake and the most accessible to the city of Austin.”

From 2001-09, before the stations at Bob Wentz Park and Mansfield Dam were installed, 17 drownings were recorded in that area of Lake Travis, Chapman said. Following the construction of the stations in 2009, there have been only six recorded drownings, he said.

“So we’ve seen a marked decrease in drownings in our parks,” Chapman said. “I feel like the life jacket loaner program has had a big effect on that.”

Last summer, the county installed a life jacket loaner station at Hamilton Pool Preserve, an action Chapman said was taken in response to two drownings in 2016 that led the agency to reevaluate its park program at the site. Since the station was installed, no drownings have occurred at Hamilton Pool Preserve, he said.

“None of the drownings, since 2009, in our parks, were related to someone wearing a life jacket,” Chapman said. “No one had on a life jacket who drowned.”

He said the county plans to expand the life jacket loaner program to two more parks, including Pace Bend Park and Reimers Ranch Park in western Travis County.

Colin’s Hope helps  

Colin’s Hope, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to providing water safety resources to help prevent drowning, donated a life jacket loaner station at Lakeway City Park and served as a partner to create the Hamilton Pool Preserve station.

Colin’s Hope became involved with the life jacket loaner station program in 2016.

“They have been a great asset. They provided jackets and helped label them with ‘please return’ and ‘Travis County Parks.’ And they support the program overall,” Chapman said.

He said the life jackets are free to loan out but not always returned, with the program losing about half of its life jackets, or 150-200 jackets, every year.

“That’s okay,” Chapman said of the lost jackets. “We plan for that and we feel like those people who are taking those jackets, whether intentionally or unintentionally, (if) it saves a life somewhere else, we are just fine with that.”

State life jacket laws for boating

State law requires that a life jacket must be available for each occupant of a boat and children under 13 years, must wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting, according to a news release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department last month.

“Texas Game Wardens regularly perform vessel safety checks to ensure boat operators and passengers are following the law,” said Cody Jones, TPWD Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement, in the release. “Everyone who will be operating a boat, personal watercraft or paddle craft this summer should make sure they are in compliance with all vessel safety requirements before hitting the water.”

The current state Water Safety Act, effective September 2017-August 2019, includes other requirements for watercraft. (

Boating under the influence

Law enforcement will be on the alert for individuals violating boating under the influence laws, the TPWD release states. In 2017, TPWD Game Wardens issued 152 boating under the influence or boating while intoxicated citations across the state, the release provided.

Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater death, the release states.

Don’t drink while driving your vehicle or your boat,” Dark said. “Alcohol impairs good judgement. Please be responsible on the lake.”

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Travis County Sheriff’s Office staff urges all lake users to don life jackets this summer, like these boaters on Lake Travis. LESLEE BASSMAN