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Family of 5-year-old girl who drowned in 2015 advocates for water safety

Six years after Jennifer Christianson lost her daughter, she hopes her message can stop this from happening to anyone else.
Published: Jul. 4, 2021 at 12:52 AM CDT
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GOTHAM, Wis. (WMTV) - One week after a 7-year-old girl drowned in the Pecatonica River in Lafayette County, state officials are stressing water safety as many people head out onto Wisconsin waterways for the 4th of July weekend. One family, who lost their daughter to drowning in 2015, is echoing that message.

Jennifer Christianson lost her 5-year-old daughter six years ago. Now, she is still sharing her story in hopes that her message of safety will help save someone else’s child.

“There was never a dull moment with Angela,” Christianson remembered.

Christianson described 5-year-old Angela Girton has a happy and outgoing girl.

“She loved the water, but we took her to local swimming pools and stuff, I never took my kids to the river,” she explained.

However, in 2015, Angela and her sister were with their babysitter and wound up near the Wisconsin River, where Angela fell in and drowned.

“You just never know when something like that’s going to happen,” Christianson said, adding these accidents happen so fast.

Six years later, Christianson, her father and her sister are advocating for water safety for kids and adults.

“Wear your life jacket so it doesn’t happen to any of your children,” she said.

Angela’s death also inspired the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (FLOW) to expand a partnership with the Wisconsin DNR, installing 13 life vest loaner stations along the river to encourage people to wear life jackets out on the water.

“Kids don’t float, but life vests do,” said FLOW president Timm Zumm.

Zumm explained the kiosks have seen a lot of use over the year, but he still sees too many people on the river without a life jacket. Zumm said people should put the vest on right away, not just once they get in the water or on the boat.

“Seatbelt off, life vest on right there before you get anywhere close to the water’s edge,” he explained.

DNR Conservation Warden Michael Williams echoed Zumm, saying while the law only requires boaters to have a life vest easily accessible, he recommends wearing it at all times.

“If you get thrown out of the boat and the life jacket’s floating away from you, then it makes it very difficult,” Williams explained.

Williams added wearing a life vest is a precaution that works.

“I’ve seen people get caught in the trees and stuff like that and if they weren’t wearing their life jacket, then they’d be in a lot of trouble,” he said.

For Christianson, she hopes Angela’s story inspires others to take safety seriously before it is too late.

“So they don’t have to deal with the heartache of an accident happening,” she explained.

NBC15 asked Williams specifically about what they typically see over the holiday weekend. Williams explained the holiday weekend is a mandatory work weekend for wardens, and they spend a lot of time on the water so they can respond quickly if something happens. Still, he emphasized the biggest tip is to wear a life jacket at all times.

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