University of Wisconsin-Madison officials declined to release an administrative review that led them to shift the management of a Lake Mendota rescue service scrutinized after the death of a windsurfer in a collision with a rescue boat a year ago.
The UW-Madison Police Department announced Wednesday that it had taken over operation of UWPD Lake Rescue and Safety.
A rescue power boat run by the program, formerly known as UW Lake Safety, collided with windsurfer and volunteer Hoofers instructor Yu Chen near UW-Madison's Lifesaving Station at 144 E. Gilman St. on May 31, 2017. Chen, 43, a longtime, popular member of the student-run outdoor recreation club, was killed.
The lifesaving station boat reportedly was returning from a rescue call, with three employees on board, when it collided with Chen. But exactly what happened has never been publicly disclosed.
An attorney hired by Chen’s family, Jay Urban of Milwaukee, was so frustrated by the lack of information in the case, he pursued a court filing to preserve evidence in preparation for a civil lawsuit.
A Dane County Sheriff’s Office investigation of the death was completed and forwarded to the Dane County District Attorney last October.
UWPD spokesman Marc Lovicott said Wednesday his department’s administrative review will be available once the DA’s office completes its review of the sheriff’s investigation.
Law enforcement agencies typically withhold release of incident reports pending prosecutors’ charging decisions.
But DA Ismael Ozanne said Wednesday he had not received UW’s report.
“I haven’t seen the administrative review as it would not come to me for my decision,” Ozanne wrote in an email. He would not indicate whether he had made a decision about bringing criminal charges in the case.
The lake safety program had been under the direction of UW Environmental, Health and Safety, a department charged with ensuring the health and safety of people, buildings and the natural environment at UW-Madison and associated facilities.
The UW administrative review concluded that the unit would operate best under the leadership of a first responder agency, UWPD, according to a news release from the police department. The rescue operation had long served in a first responder capacity on Lake Mendota and partnered with first responder agencies like the sheriff’s office and the Madison Fire Department.
“As a first responder entity, and a triply-accredited police agency, our record keeping, training and policies are among the best of the best in the nation and we believe bringing Lake Rescue & Safety to UWPD will help accomplish many of the recommendations our review outlined,” Chief Kristin Roman said.
UWPD Captain Brent Plisch will lead the unit.
“We saw an opportunity to bring some positive changes to this well-respected and vital campus unit,” Plisch said.
UW-Madison became involved in Lake Mendota rescue efforts in 1909 after the drowning of two students. The service was involved in thousands of rescues and assists of swimmers and boaters in the eras since.
In 2016, Lake Safety make 631 runs and helped 516 boaters and swimmers, most of them affiliated with UW-Madison.
Boaters and swimmers generally will not notice anything different this season on the lake; most changes are administrative, relating to training, policy development and the establishment of formal relationships with other first responder agencies, the news release said.