Chicago Park District to install life rings along lakefront at approved swimming areas

"We still firmly believe we should not be encouraging that the life rings will save you in an area that's do not swim."
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The waters on Lake Michigan are pretty calm Friday on a beautiful late summer afternoon.

However, a couple of weeks ago, it was a different story.

The rough water in Rogers Park claimed the life of 19-year-old Miguel Cisneros.

Within days, his mother began lobbying the Chicago Park District to install life rings on the pier. She believes if one had been available, it would have saved her son's life.

"People are dying. This is about human life," said Cisneros' mom, Maria Diaz.

Activists said they have been lobbying for rings on Chicago beaches for several years.

Several even took it up on themselves to put one up near where Cisneros was killed, but the park district quickly removed it.

RELATED: Family on mission to install life rings on Chicago lakefront after teen drowns at Rogers Park beach

But Friday, the park district reversed course and approved a pilot program to install the rings as part of a new water safety plan to prevent drownings and other accidents.

"In spite of discussion with our lawyers and in spite of my discussions with the board, I'm gonna take the initiative and we're gonna install life rings," said Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly.

The life rings, however, will be installed at approved swimming areas - generally, beaches that already have lifeguards.

According to activists, that's not the point. They want them on piers which generally are near deeper and more dangerous water.

"This is the one problem that's a no-brainer solution, but the city doesn't have the brains to implement it. It makes no sense to me,' said Dave Benjamin with the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

RELATED: Lake Michigan drowning, water rescues renew calls for life rings along Chicago beaches

Diaz said the park district's plan for life rings is insufficient.

"No one understands my pain," she said.

"We still firmly believe we should not be encouraging that the life rings will save you in an area that's do not swim," Kelly said.

Officials said they are looking at, not only at beaches, but also at park district controlled areas of the Chicago River and lagoons. They hope to have the life rings installed by the start of swimming season next year.

As of Labor Day, at least 36 people have drowned in Lake Michigan this year, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.
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