Politics

Former lifeguard dove into Langford Lake, couldn’t rescue teen

The 17-year-old Belmont Secondary student Keron McKay died Wednesday after being pulled out of the lake on Saturday

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Warning: This story contains details that readers may find disturbing.

When Alison Ambroso recalls how she ran toward the docks of Langford Lake on Saturday, ripped off her jeans and jumped into the water after a call for help, it’s the silence of the bystanders that sticks with her.

“It was so bizarrely quiet — the people on the dock weren’t really freaking out, screaming and yelling until they saw the young man’s body come up,” said Ambroso, one of three people who dove in to rescue a teen from the lake bottom.

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“I think that’s when the panic set in — it was such a fast, quiet thing that I don’t know that everyone clicked in that this is really happening.”

Belmont Secondary student Keron McKay, 17, had slipped under the water and did not reappear, according to witnesses. Langford Fire Chief Chris Aubrey said it sounded like the teen was swimming with others when he went under and it was a few minutes before they noticed he hadn’t resurfaced.

Ambroso, a 41-year-old former lifeguard, was walking with her husband and his parents when she looked out onto the docks and saw people staring into the water. “It was oddly quiet” until she heard a boy call for help.

“When I saw that, I started running down to the dock, and just knew something was going on,” she said. “There was a woman already in the water, between the two docks, and this other young man had just jumped in.”

Another distraught boy began yelling “my friend is underwater.”

Ambroso grabbed a pair of goggles from a person sitting on the stairs of the dock, pulled off her heavy jeans, and dove in. The water was dark and murky, made worse by the silt stirred up as they swam, and the boy was dark-skinned.

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The other woman in the water, who wears contacts, couldn’t see the victim. Ambroso, wearing goggles, could clearly see the teen’s bright white Umbro swimming shorts, which almost illuminated his shadowy figure.

“I tried to go down and I saw him floating quite deep and I saw his white shorts but I couldn’t get all the way down, couldn’t get my breath to go all the way down,” she said.

It’s hard for her to estimate now how deep the lake-bottom was, but she believes it was much deeper than the boy’s height, which she believes is about six feet.

“I remember starting to sort of freak out because I could see him, and adrenaline was pumping, and the cold was hitting, and I just couldn’t get my breath enough to get down to him,” she said.

A male teen was able to retrieve the victim while Ambroso and the other woman helped to get him to the dock, where others jumped in to pull him out of the water. One female teen on the dock said the victim couldn’t swim or couldn’t swim well.

Ambroso and the other woman, also a former lifeguard, began CPR. After giving an initial few rescue breaths, the women turned the victim on his side as he was vomiting and expelling water. Afterwards, they resumed CPR for about four to five minutes until paramedics arrived and took over.

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Bystanders had ferried first responders to the floating dock in two boats and Langford Fire Rescue used its boat to transfer the teen to an ambulance. He has since died.

Ambroso said she had “underestimated the impact” the events would have on her and has almost obsessively tried to get medical updates on the boy, “feeling like I have a connection to him but also having no connection at all.”

Nicola Lento, who works with Keron’s father, Phillip McKay, in the hospitality industry, set up a fundraising page for the “single father to five children,” who came to Victoria about a year ago from Jamaica and was by his son’s side in the ICU.

“The doctors have said that there’s nothing more that they can do,” she said. “It’s a horrible situation.”

Lento said she’s not a close family friend, just a co-worker who wants desperately to help McKay as he takes time off work and deals with unexpected expenses. She got his permission to set up the fund, she said.

“It’s devastating for the whole city, really. I mean, he’s a young man, right? And he had the world ahead of him.”

Ambroso said since the tragedy, she has discussed with family and friends ways to get lifesaving equipment on the docks. She said in the moment she didn’t think to have someone go to the YMCA across the street to get an automated external defibrillator, or AED, which can help to restore regular heart rhythms.

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“One of the sort of biggest things that hit me after is these kids will be haunted because they had no option to act, like, there was nothing available to them,” said Ambroso.

“And it’s good they didn’t jump in, it’s good they didn’t do something that was beyond their skills because it could have ended out more tragic, but to be so paralyzed by a lack of options to do anything, I think, is the most unfortunate outcome for these kids in their processing of it.”

Ambroso said it’s easy to underestimate the frigid temperature of the lake and the distance between the docks. She wonders if things would have turned out differently if there had been a lifesaving ring and rope or pole or if lifejackets were available.

There were 18 drownings in the Island Health region in 2022. The lowest yearly number was nine in 2013 and the peak was 21 drowning deaths in 2018. Aubrey said drownings in lakes in Langford are relatively rare, occurring only about every four or five years.

Just weeks prior to Saturday’s incident, the YMCA had conducted a safety and environmental scan of the lake and the dock area with their lifeguards as a training exercise, said Ambroso.

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She said she’s grateful she and the other former lifeguard had the skills to contribute to the rescue effort, but “I really believe it should be common practice to have some lifesaving kits available at these common swimming points.”

— The GoFundMe page is here


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