(Editor’s Note: The body was recovered May 2, after this article was published. More information to come in the May 10 issue of The Independent.)
A Spokane fisherman drowned at Waitts Lake early on the Opening Day of fishing season, Saturday, April 28, and authorities are still searching for the body.
Frederick Barker, 48, of Spokane, reportedly jumped into the extremely cold water trying to save his fishing rod while not wearing a life jacket. He never resurfaced.
The incident happened around 6:15 a.m. on the Northeast side of the lake in sight of the Silver Beach Resort dock where other fisherman witnessed the tragedy. Barker was with his wife and another male passenger.
Nick and Penny Grmolyes, owners of Silver Beach Resort, talked to witnesses and those who knew Barker following the incident. He was not a customer at the resort.
Penny Grmolyes said Barker’s wife started screaming and throwing life preservers toward him as a nearby boat sounded their air horn and went to help. Witnesses on the dock also ran to tell Nick Grmolyes who then called 9-1-1, although he said he was not the first to call.
Stevens County marine deputies and dive team, with the help of Spokane County deputies and divers, searched for the body all day April 28 and April 29. However, Sheriff Kendle Allen said they suspended the search on Monday, April 30 because they were not producing any results. They will return to Waitts Lake once they can have access to a sonar capable boat.
Allen said cold water drowning victims can stay down for a long time because the gases released from the body cannot help it rise in extremely cold temperatures. The water is about 40 degrees and 45 feet deep where they have been searching, he said.
Nick Grmolyes said Barker’s rod, a brand new $350 pole and reel, came out of the rod holder after hooking a fish. Penny Grmolyes said they cannot believe an experienced fisherman would jump into such cold water on purpose while not wearing a life vest and bundled for the cold weather. She said Barker must have reached for the rod instinctively and slipped in.
There have been some close calls but Penny Grmolyes said she does not know of anyone who has drowned at Waitts Lake since they purchased the resort in 1989.
“Please people, wear your life jackets especially when it is so cold,” she said.
By Kellie Trudeau
The Independent Staff
In This Photo: A dive team searches the area of Waitts Lake where Spokane fisherman Frederick Barker drowned on April 28. Kellie Trudeau photo