Woman’s drowning brings attention to rafting regulation

Middleton woman died while rafting on the Wolf River

Published On: Feb 22 2013 10:01:11 AM CST   Updated On: Feb 22 2013 11:25:00 AM CST
MIDDLETON, Wis. -

A Middleton woman drowned on a summer rafting trip and her family says it doesn’t have to happen.

News 3 Investigates found there are no regulations requiring rafters wear life jackets in Wisconsin.

Lina Vergara drowned last year on a segment of the Wolf River in northwest Wisconsin rated “difficult” by an international rating system. Her body was discovered by Shawano County Sheriff’s deputies 15 hours after she disappeared.

Vergara and her boyfriend rented equipment from Shotgun Eddy’s and signed a release recognizing the risks of rafting and recommending they wear life jackets. Vergara wore a lifejacket, but it popped off when she fell in.

Her death is one of 23 boating deaths reported in Wisconsin in 2012. In more than half the cases, the victim wasn’t wearing a life jacket. Vergara was one of two rafters who died on Wisconsin’s Wolf River.

Todd Schaller with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said state boating laws don’t require lifejackets.

“That would be one simple step in this particular case that would greatly reduce dying or drowning in that environment,” he said.

Unlike boating, rafting is not regulated and doesn’t require an operator’s license.

Certifications for guides are common in western states where boating deaths are nearly half of Wisconsin’s 2012 total.

Vergara’s father, Alejandro Vergara, said they wanted to do something to help other’s avoid Lina’s fate.

The family started an online petition proposing safety changes, like hired guides, lifeguards and helmets. Nearly 3,000 people signed it.

Shotgun Eddy’s co-owner Brian Peters said the company is open to changes.