Search for Tiara Hardy

A Lake County police patrol boat searches along the shoreline at Marquette Park Beach last week in Gary.

Public safety measures, which were supposed to be in place but weren’t, likely wouldn't have kept a Merrillville woman from drowning to death in Gary last week.

That's what Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson told The Times following the July 23 drowning of Tiara Hardy in the waters off Gary's Marquette Beach.

The mayor's summation is poorly constructed cover for a city that apparently couldn't get its act together on beach safety precautions this year.

Instead of providing excuses, Gary leaders owe it to all users of its public beaches to ensure any and all possible safety measures are in place.

And now the mayor's excuse for why floating safety buoys haven't been in place on city beaches this summer is being contradicted by the contractor who usually puts them in place.

In years past, contractor South Shore Marina would place the buoys as potential markers for swimmers and boaters, providing cues they may be veering too far away from or into shore.

Those buoys haven't been on the beaches this year, and people took particular notice of this fact after Hardy's body washed ashore last week.

Freeman-Wilson appeared to dismiss the buoy concerns by dubbing them "efforts to explain this tragedy away."

She noted buoys likely wouldn't have saved the woman.

We agree with Freeman-Wilson's assessment that people need to take a larger measure of responsibility for their own safety by not swimming in rough lake waters.

However, that doesn't absolve the city of doing all it can to protect the public.

The mayor claimed last week that buoys have been absent because the contractor hadn't signed or even responded to a contract the city sent the vendor, South Shore Marina.

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David Zak, who owns South Shore Marina, countered Monday that he sent an estimate for the work to the city in February and didn't hear back until a couple of weeks ago — when the city sent him a contract with missing pages.

In fact, Zak said, the contract he received was devoid of pricing information.

The city refutes those claims.

Zak also said the city requested that his company install the buoys and then be paid for the work at a later date.

"I'm a small company, and I can't finance projects for the city of Gary," Zak told Times reporter Lauren Cross.

It must be noted Zak and the mayor agree on at least one point: that safety buoys may not have saved a 24-year-old woman from drowning last week.

But not every stop sign or speed limit posting is going to save people from dying in vehicle crashes, either.

That doesn't excuse the government from doing whatever it takes to ensure the safety devices are installed when and where they're needed.

City officials also have noted that warning flags, which serve as signs to beachgoers of hazardous lake conditions, are removed from lifeguard stands after guards' shifts end at 6 p.m. out of fear the items will be stolen or blown away in the wind.

Securing the flags on reinforced poles, or creating more permanent signs that can be left out when conditions remain hazardous, would seem to solve at least part of the problem.

Sensible solutions, not distracting excuses, are the only appropriate plays in a good-government playbook.


Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editor Marc Chase, Deputy Editor Kerry Erickson, Assistant Local News Editor Crista Zivanovic and Regional News Editor Sharon Ross.