Campus lake safety program under new leadership a year after windsurfer’s death

UWPD leading lake rescue and safety program
Campus lake safety program under new leadership a year after windsurfer’s death

A year after a University of Wisconsin-Madison lake safety boat hit and killed a Hoofers Sailing Club instructor on Lake Mendota, changes are coming to the campus’s lake rescue program.

The Lake Safety program, previously under the direction of UW Environmental Health and Safety, will now be led by the UW police.

The department is making administrative changes to the program, focusing on areas including training and policies.

The Dane County District Attorney’s Office is still reviewing the sheriff’s department’s investigation into the death of 43-year-old Yu Chen who was teaching windsurfing lessons on Lake Mendota when a UW-Madison lifesaving boat hit and killed him.

Campus lake safety program under new leadership a year after windsurfer’s death

“Lots of people ask questions, and many times we tell them we don’t know the answer,” said Terry Tao, vice president of the Madison Chinese Culture Association.

He didn’t know Chen personally, but is working with Chen’s family overseas.

“As a single child family, it’s very sad for them,” Tao said. “We want to know what happened.”

An administrative review prompted by the accident led to UWPD taking over leadership of the program, now called UWPD Lake Rescue and Safety.

“Safety’s always a concern,” Capt. Brent Pilsch said. “The things that lake rescue and safety folks are out there doing is pulling people out of water and making sure boats are being safe.”

Plisch said the program’s core mission will be the same, but along with administrative changes, the department has a network of first responders across the state who can help provide guidance.

“It makes sense to pull the program into our organizational structure for the support and resources they need to do their jobs effectively,” he said.

“We are pleased to see something has been done,” Tao said.

While waiting for closure, Tao is optimistic the changes will steer the program in the right direction.

“Based on the new move, I think it’s good,” he said. “But it also leaves lots of questions open. I think the sooner the DA can make a final accurate decision and also a fair decision, will be better. And also if there was some issues, I think we should face it.”

UWPD will not take over law enforcement on Lake Mendota. That remains the responsibility of the Dane County Sheriff’s Department.

The UWPD administrative review report will be available once the DA’s office releases its review of Chen’s death.