Boating accident inspires teen to help keep swimmers afloat

Jamison Wenc, 14, of Waterford is collecting life jackets to help prevent drowning accidents like the ones that happened on July 4.
Jamison Wenc, 14, of Waterford is collecting life jackets to help prevent drowning accidents like the ones that happened on July 4.

Jamison Wenc is taking his life-threatening experience and turning it into a life-saving idea.

Wenc, 14, was aboard The Nino, a 63-foot Vicem sportfishing boat, on June 22 when it struck Goshen Reef in Waterford and quickly began to take on water.

"Two of my siblings already had life jackets on and my grandmother had yelled to get the other life jackets," Wenc said. "By the time a nearby boat had come, we were knee deep in water."

The boat sank shortly after the rescue.

Wenc credits the life jackets with keeping him, his grandparents, John and Linda Antonino, and his three siblings safe.

Wenc said the experience shook him up, but it wasn't until two weeks later, when 6-year-old Anthony Bernoudy drowned at Greens Harbor Beach on July 4 in New London, that he realized how he and his family were fortunate to survive.

The tragedy prompted Wenc, with the help of his mother, Jennifer Antonino, to start collecting life jackets that will eventually be placed in a deck box at Greens Harbor Beach, so that children who don't know how to swim can use them and return them at the end of the day.

"Anthony is about the same age as my brother, and I wondered why my brother survived and he didn't," Wenc said. "I thought we can really use this an opportunity to make sure that kids are safe."

Every day, about 10 people in the country die from "unintentional drowning," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the causes of unintentional injury or death in the United States.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard's 2010 statistics, approximately 88 percent, or more than 400, boaters who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

Jennifer Antonino said her son went before New London's Park & Recreation Department last Wednesday and pitched his idea, which was unanimously approved.

She said she has not spoken to the Bernoudy family, but her heart goes out to them.

"I was very proud of him," Antonino said. "He's always thinking of other people."

City Recreation Director Tommie Major said Wenc did a great job presenting his idea.

"I think it's a real humanistic reaction to another person's tragedy," Major said. "It's nice to see a young person venture out to assist other people."

Major said the deck box would most likely be placed next summer at Greens Harbor since the start of school is just two weeks away.

Antonino said her family has sailed in the area of Goshen Reef "hundreds of times," but she said on that particular day it was an extra low tide.

"It was a humbling experience," she said. "My children were spared and this little boy wasn't. It was an accident, a terrible tragedy."

Antonino also noted that another boy, Brandon Jozile, 16, of Norwich, also drowned on Independence Day at Hopeville Pond State Park in Griswold.

She said the life jackets aren't meant to replace swimming lessons, and she and her son hope to use this as a springboard to create a water safety awareness program in the elementary schools that would ultimately provide free swimming lessons.

Antonino also said that depending on the response more deck boxes would be brought to other communities.

Wenc created a Facebook page called "ABC - your way to water safety." The page will be used to promote life jacket awareness and water safety and would eventually accept monetary donations to buy life jackets and support water safety programs.

"If one kid puts on a life jacket and is saved because of it, that would be a great feeling. If no other child dies because of a drowning, I would consider that a success," he said.

How to donate

The following places are accepting life jacket donations:

• Oswegatchie Fire Company, 441 Boston Post Road, Waterford.
• New London Fire Headquarters, 289 Bank St., New London.
• Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department, 373 Long Hill Road, Groton.
• Antonino Acura, 340 Gold Star Highway, Groton.
• Girard Ford, 450 W Thames St., Norwich.
• Toyota of Colchester, 100 Old Hartford Road.


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