Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 1, 2012

Village hit hard by drowning

Brian 'Bubba' Rolston, 16, was swimming at Van's Beach


LAKE LEELANAU — A likeable teenager's drowning death shocked this tight-knit, heart-of-Leelanau County community and sparked an outpouring of support for the family.

Brian Paul Rolston, 16, known as "Bubba" to his family and friends, drowned Thursday while swimming with his sisters and a friend at Van's Beach in Leland. The only son of Jeri and Steven Rolston, Brian was described as a sweet, hard-working kid who loved basketball.

"We're all kind of in shock about it and everybody is trying to be helpful to the family, bringing food and visiting and bringing support," said neighbor Helen Galla, who works at NJ's Grocery Store in Lake Leelanau, where Jeri Rolston used to work. "We all felt so badly. We all cried."

Brian was a "great kid" who worked numerous jobs. He planned to join the military after high school and make a career out of it, said Charles Gann, principal at Leland Public School, where Brian was set to begin his junior year.

Friend and neighbor Brennan Flohe, 14, said Brian was sweet and "really funny.

"He was a really good kid," she said.

Leland Public School will be open today from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for students and the community to spend time together, Gann said.

"It's a tragedy anywhere, but our school is small, the community is small, and everybody is really feeling this," Gann said. "Sadly, our school has been through this before just recently and we expect the same kind of outreach from the community. Everyone will pull together to do everything we can for the Rolston family.

"That's the job now and we will take care of it," Gann said.

A hot, muggy Thursday drew swimmers to Van's Beach next to Leland Harbor to play in the surf.

The wind blew harder and the surf roared as the day progressed, said Harbor Master Russell Dzuba. He estimated the wind at about 30 knots when he left work around 5 p.m., shortly before Brian disappeared.

Leland Township's Fire Department already had made one run to the beach that day to assist a 7-year-old child who swallowed too much water, Dzuba said.

"The surf was rolling good and running parallel to the beach and you get a lot of strange circumstances then," Dzuba said. "It's moving a lot of water and the currents are really strong."

Brian was in shallow water near the shore with his family when a strong rip current pulled him into deeper water and he went under.

A family member tried to help Brian, but was forced back by the strong current, authorities said.

Search and rescue teams from the Leelanau County Sheriff's Department, Leland Fire and Rescue, Glen Arbor Fire and Rescue, and the U.S. Coast Guard initially searched by boat and air without success.

A regional dive team also responded and searched until nightfall, while the family held vigil on the beach.

Rescue workers continued to scour the area throughout the night, both by boat and air, said Leelanau sheriff's Lt. Clint Kerr. The dive team resumed the search at 8 a.m. and discovered Brian's body in six feet of water about 30 yards from the mouth of Leland Harbor.

The body was found around noon on Friday, not far from where Brian went under, but visibility was limited due to sand and silt stirred by Thursday's heavy surf, Kerr said.

"Obviously, this is an awful thing for any family to go through and sad for them, but I'm glad we could recover him," said Kerr, who had to break the news to a family he knows personally.

Funeral arrangements are pending.