Four drownings this summer at the San Luis Pass, a strait of water separating Galveston Island from Brazoria County, have prompted officials on both sides of the channel to increase efforts to stop people from wading or fishing there.
In the past week, local and county officials renewed calls for safety as they work to reinforce precautionary efforts at the pass, which is known as one of the most hazardous fishing and swimming spots on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Two people drowned Monday near the Brazoria County side of the pass, and the Brazoria County Commissioners Court on Tuesday made it illegal for people to wade or fish in the water. The city of Galveston already prohibits that activity on its side between marked signage points.
“I think, a lot of the time, it takes an incident before we do the right thing,” Galveston Island Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis said. “Sometimes, I think it just wakes everybody up.”
The pass has always been known as a dangerous spot for fishing and swimming, Davis said. Strong currents move through the channel between the island and a slender peninsula jutting from the mainland. The currents can change direction quickly depending on the tide, and the swift water can also create steep drop-offs in the pass, which can be treacherous for people who are wading.
The pass has always been a risky spot to swim, Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.
“That area, it hasn’t changed in all my life,” Trochesset said.
But the harsh currents and swift water flow are enticing to anglers, Davis said.
“The things that make the swimming dangerous are the things that make the fishing good,” he said.
This year, three of the four drownings were in Brazoria County. Only one of the people who drowned was a county resident.
Two vacationers drowned at Treasure Island near San Luis Pass on Aug. 7. Larry Lumpkin, 67, of Willis, was swimming when he began to struggle with the extreme currents, according to a news release. His son-in-law, Dennis Roberson, 46, of Montgomery, tried to rescue Lumpkin when he also was swept away.
Rufino Suarez, 26, of Houston drowned July 4 on the north side of the pass, near Galveston Island. Suarez was on a kayak with six other people before he drowned. The kayak overturned and dumped all of them into the water. They made it to land safely, but a 5-year-old boy who was on the kayak had to be rescued.
Jacob Szydlowski, 19, of Alvin, on June 23 drowned south of the San Luis Pass-Vacek Toll Bridge, on the Brazoria County side. A friend of his told dispatchers that they had been fishing in waist-deep water when he was swept away by currents.
The last time there were so many drownings at the pass was 2013. Four drownings occurred that year between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, prompting the city of Galveston to post warning signs on the beaches near the water, and for the Galveston Island Beach Patrol to station a lifeguard in the area on weekends.
Davis said he’s spoken to some people in Brazoria County about putting up a flag warning system on their side of the channel and starting some sort of patrol there.
Sharon Trower, spokeswoman for the Brazoria County judge, couldn’t confirm that those efforts were underway, but said the county is committed to informing residents and visitors about the dangers of the pass.
“We’re going to continue to put that information out,” Trower said. “A lot of people are visiting the area and don’t know how dangerous San Luis Pass is.”
Streamlining safety efforts between the county and Galveston Island Beach Patrol would make safety enforcement in the area a little easier, Davis said.
“What they do affects us quite a bit,” Davis said. “I think what they’re doing is very helpful.”
The main problem occurs when people enter the water without any flotation devices, Davis said. People who stay above water by fishing or kayaking don’t usually have problems, he said.
“We’re much more concerned about people who are wading with no life jackets on,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of people who kayak and fish out there and they do it really safely.”