Family collects donations for life jackets after 2 die in Wisconsin River

Family collects donations for life jackets after 2 die in Wisconsin River

A fun day turned tragic when a father and his 4-year-old son died Friday after five people fell off a sand bar into the Wisconsin River in Poynette.

“We heard screaming earlier on when it first started happening, but we just thought it was children screaming, having fun. Then all of a sudden we heard ambulances coming down the road,” local resident Brianna Johnson said.

It’s a scary thought that Johnson and her sister, Savannah Thurber, know too well.

“I always go in the river. I go in the same exact spot where the little kid and the dad fell in and the currents are horrible. Even I have been stuck in the currents trying to get back for hours,” Johnson said.

“There’s always warnings about it, there’s many people drowning in the Wisconsin River, or anywhere for that matter, it’s just all over. I’ve seen so many drownings just within the last month just within different areas,” Savannah Thurber said.

Friday’s drowning now marks four people who have died along the Wisconsin River this year.

“It’s too common and I don’t want to say it’s just because of the sand bar. The river is beautiful but it’s an evil, evil animal and what it’s showing, what it’s doing on top does not mean it’s doing below,” Columbia County Sheriff Dennis Richards said.

Hoping to save lives, Tina Johnson, the girls’ mother, is helping the sisters work with businesses like the Big Worm’s Hot Spot to make sure everyone has a life jacket before taking a swim.

“Even last night after the tragedy, there was a family down there and the little girl didn’t have a life jacket on and it just broke my heart,” Tina Johnson said.

The family is collecting donations to buy enough life jackets for everyone in the area to use by July 4, free of charge.

“To me and my kids, if we save one life then our job is done. You know, we did it and that’s just what we want, is to be able to save somebody else’s life and not have a family go through what they had to yesterday,” Tina Johnson said.

Donations for life jackets will be accepted at Big Worms Bait Shot, Burlage Chiropractic in Lodi and the BP gas station at 306 Highway 51 in Poynette.