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Pueblo County Coroner identifies Lake Pueblo victims as Ft. Carson personnel

Posted at 2:28 PM, Jun 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-13 12:52:32-04

PUEBLO — The Pueblo County Coroner has identified both men who died in separate accidents at Lake Pueblo on Friday as military members stationed at Ft. Carson.

21-year-old Zion Thomkins of Philadelphia died in a swimming accident. 21-year-old Michael Carter, hometown not provided, also died in a suspected swimming accident.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife recovered their remains hours after a call to Sailboard Access around 1:15 p.m. Witnesses said a man went underwater and never came back to the surface.

While on their way, CPW learned of a second, unrelated drowning in the same area.

Early reports indicated two boaters had gone missing.

Teams used sonar to help in the search. A sonar device looked for anomalies on the floor of the lake, and a diver then went to check it out.

A team also brought a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV), which is an underwater robot or drone with lights that is capable of recovering things in the water.

Around 4:15 Rangers sonar detected what appeared to be a body in the water.

While those remains were being recovered, the ROV located the second body.

By 6:00, both were pulled from the water and turned over to the Pueblo County Coroner's Office, which will determine the official cause of death.

Park Rangers said they will talk to as many witnesses as possible to figure out what led to the drownings.

CPW said the Sailboard beach area has been very busy over the last few months, and there were several hundred people on the beach at the time the drowning was reported.

Last Sunday there was a drowning off a boat, and there have been near-drowning incidents in the past few weeks as well.

Park officials said there were no boats or paddleboards in the area, indicating both victims were swimming, which is not allowed outside of the swim beach.

Lake Pueblo State Park Manager Monique Mullis said it takes a lot of resources to respond to a drowning.

"And then to find that you have two at the same time, we have to split our resources and try to figure out what's going on," Mullis said.

Mullis also said they are seeing high rates of alcohol use and reckless behavior, although she could not say if that behavior was related to Friday's incidents.

The park is also seeing unusually high traffic this summer.

"We're having a really rough summer anyways, because we are seeing unprecedented visitation," Mullis said. "Our month of May, our visitation was up 30% that is the equivalent of 83,000 extra people on the park just in the month of May of 2020."

CPW manages 40 state parks, and all of them are seeing increased use this year.

"Everybody wants to be on the lake, on the water, and I'll be honest with you, not everybody's being as safe as they should be," said Mullis.

Lake Pueblo will have additional CPW officers to help manage capacity issues on weekends. The park has never needed to turn away guests in the past, but this year they have had to on several occasions.

Lake Pueblo has had four drownings already this year, and the lake has been dealing with large critical incidents 4 to 5 times per week.