Baby drowned during boating trip with family on Mad River in Champaign County

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY — The family of a 1-year-old baby who drowned in Mad River Tuesday afternoon was on a trip with Birch Bark Livery in Champaign County when the boat capsized.

The baby, identified as Miya Ye of Bellefontaine in an incident report, was with family in two canoes and a kayak, according to a worker at the livery.

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There were seven people total in the boats and they had Coast Guard-approved life jackets, including one for the baby, the worker said.

Four adult life jackets and three boats were included as a part of the incident report. However, there is no mention of any child life jacket.

The worker added that he told the family multiple times to get out of the river at the Ohio 55 bridge.

News Center 7 found a sign hanging from the bridge that said “Birch Bark Canoe Livery state Route 55 take out. All trips end here.”

The family signed waivers before the trip like all of the livery’s customers, the worker said.

An employee was driving to pick the family up at the bridge Tuesday and when he got there first responders were already on scene for search and rescue efforts, according to the worker.

News Center 7 is still working to learn more about what led up to the moments when Ye drowned in the river near Ohio 55 Tuesday afternoon.

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A woman called 9-1-1 saying the baby fell into the water from her lap while the family was boating and coming up on an area in the river with fallen trees and other debris.

The family hit a “strainer” while in a boat and capsized, first responders said.

When asked why there isn’t any signage warning people about the water being dangerous, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Lt. Travis Martin said the agency can’t put up signs.

“We are considering adding additional enforcement on the water way due to large numbers of incidents near this area, but the ODNR can not post signage on the river because the river is public,” he said. “We are also not allowed to place signage on private property, like the river bank.”

News Center 7’s John Bedell spoke with an experienced boater who spoke more about strainers and why they can be so dangerous.

“Typically it’s a tree, but it can be anything that’s in the river that the river is flowing through, over, under,” Cliff Fawcett of the Massie Creek Paddlers said. “And it’s just like a strainer you would use when you make spaghetti. If you pour the spaghetti in the thing the water goes through and the stuff stays out.

“So you’ll get stuff, debris that will get struck in the strainer or a boat, kayak or canoe, a raft will get stuck in that.”

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Martin said that any river system will have some strainers.

“It’s pretty common, especially when you have a lot of rain like we have,” he said. “We ask the public to be conscious of this and always wear a life jacket.”

Fawcett added that the stretch of the river where the family was boating is challenging because of how narrow it is. There’s less room for people to avoid debris like trees in the river even if they can see it coming.

The incident was the fourth water rescue call in three weeks for that area of the river, said German Twp. Fire/EMS Chief Tim Holman.

A Springfield man who's been kayaking and canoeing for over two decades said he doesn't boat through that part of Mad River, even though he's familiar with the water.
"[My wife and I] actually get out of our boats and walk it across there because it is dangerous," said Gregory Schutte. "Most people I know do that ... We see things that tip right there all the time."

News Center 7 couldn’t find any signs posted near that part of the river that would warn people about the difficult water.

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Schutte suggested that any boaters research unfamiliar water before getting in a kayak or canoe. He also said that people should bring a life jacket, or at least keep one within arm’s reach.

Schutte visits Mad River during his lunch when he has a few minutes to squeeze in some fishing.

But after Tuesday’s incident, fishing wasn’t on his mind.

“I couldn’t even get the fishing rod out of the truck,” he said. “It just didn’t feel right.”

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