Family and friends of a coach from Warren County are mourning the first drowning death of the season at Caesar Creek Lake.
Robert Stegemoller, 47, of Maineville, was boating with his daughter on the lake, east of Waynesville, when he tried to retrieve their boat as it drifted away from an island where they had stopped for a picnic. Share your condolences.
The daughter tried to save Stegemoller herself after calling 911 about 4:40 p.m., Sunday, but had to leave him after they struggled to stay above water, resurfacing twice before he went down for the last time, according to Scott Hines, fire chief in Massie Twp.
“He pushed her away forcefully. He told her to save herself,” Hines said.
The water temperature was about 45 degrees on Sunday, probably contributing to Stegemoller’s distress, officials said. People can succumb - or panic - after only a few minutes in water this cold, according to experts.
“Almost 90 percent of boating fatalities are due to drowning and nearly half of those are attributed to the effects of immersion in cold water,” according to the Ohio Division of Watercraft. “Total immersion in cold water is very painful, and the disoriented victim can quickly panic.”
Hines said the body begins cramping in extremely cold water. Doyle Burke, chief investigator for the Warren County Coroner’s Office added, “You get hypothermia quickly in that temperature of water.”
Stegemoller, a girls golf coach at Little Miami High School and food service worker at a local prison, was pronounced dead about 8:15 p.m. Sunday.
Father and daughter were picnicking on Walker Island when the boat began to drift away, according to authorities. Neither was wearing a life jacket.
Unable to drag her father to shore, the daughter swam back and waited for emergency crews.
Dive crews from Massie Twp. and other neighboring fire departments searched the lake for several hours before recovering the body. The island is on the east end of the lake near the Clinton County border.
Authorities are awaiting toxicology tests before ruling on cause of death, but “everything is consistent with it being a drowning,” Burke said.
Authorities said it was the first drowning of the year at the lake. The last drowning at Caesar Creek Lake was three years ago, according to the state.
Stegemoller took over as coach of the girls varsity golf team in Little Miami after the death of Coach Rod Dillon in 2012.
“This loss is felt not just in the hallways of Little Miami High School or on the golf courses around the Southwest Ohio League, but throughout our community,” school officials said at a press conference Tuesday.
On Monday, the district expressed condolences via Twitter.
“Our LM family is saddened to learn that girls golf coach Bob Stegemoller passed away yesterday. We are heartbroken for his family,” the posting said.
Stegemoller was a 24-year-veteran correction officer at the the Warren Correctional Institution, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
“ODRC is saddened by the passing of Robert “Bobby” Stegemoller,” the department said in a statement. “We continue to keep the Stegemoller family in our thoughts and prayers, as well as the staff at WCI.”
State park officials encouraged people to wear life jackets whenever boating, swimming or even just wading. There are no lifeguards at state park beaches.
On Monday, two 15-year-old girls were rescued by other park visitors while wading at the state park beach. Hines said they stepped off a shelf into deep water sooner than expected because the lake level was lowered for construction on a new marina.
“That’s why we tell everybody to wear a life jacket. Even if you’re just on the beach,” said Eric Heis, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
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