Family pushes for ‘cold water shock’ warning signs

LEWIS COUNTY, Wash. — It was a warm, beautiful day last March. It was 73 degrees out when 18-year-old Zach Rager did something a lot of children do on this old railroad bridge. He jumped into the Chehalis River.

The river was cold despite the warm day. Rager suffered from cold water shock, a condition where muscles freeze and victims suddenly lose consciousness.

Today, there’s a memorial for Rager next to the bridge. His mother, Kimberly Hines, spoke to reporters.

“I miss Zachary. Zachary is my best friend. He’s my only son,” she said.

There were warnings not to jump off the bridge, but there was no sign warning of the danger of drowning from cold water shock.

“We want to make sure some education gets put up. Not just ‘no jumping’ or ‘no swimming’ signs, but something to teach these kids why they shouldn’t jump, why they shouldn’t swim,” said stepfather Lee Hines.

The newly proposed law requires the posting of “cold water shock” warning signs. Those signs will go near “dangerous water hazards” notices. The signs would be required only when other new or replacement signs are installed by government agencies.

Centralia Republican state Rep. Peter Abbarno wrote the law and will file it for passage in next year’s legislature.

“Most bodies of water in the state of Washington can cause cold water shock up to 10 months out of the year,” he said.

When asked why not go further and require the signs in all circumstances, Abbarno responded, “We didn’t want to dictate each one of those locations to allow for determination what that risk was for drowning. What that risk was for cold water shock.”

The proposed law also creates a mechanism for governments to accept private donations to post “cold water shock” signs.

Rager’s family feels it will be his living legacy.

Kimberly Hines said, “I know that Zachery would want this bill to go on further. If he knew the dangers of what is. He, I think he would have thought twice. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I am still going through daily and will go through the rest of my life.”