Traverse City Record-Eagle

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June 25, 2013

Examiner: Cold water spurred drownings

TRAVERSE CITY — Sudden exposure to cold water likely triggered two so-called “dry drownings” that claimed lives in Grand Traverse County.

Grand Traverse sheriff’s officials identified Miles Percy Smith, 16, of Wyandotte, as the teen who initially was reported missing Sunday from the Sands Motel and later was found floating in East Grand Traverse Bay.

Medical Examiner Matthew Houghton identified Michael Anthony Michalski, 53, of Fife Lake, as Sunday’s other drowning victim. His body was located in Fife Lake.

Houghton said water was not found in either victim’s lungs, indicating that a reflex response called a “laryngospasm” closed off their airways.

“That means when they hit the water their larynx closes off,” he said. “Apparently, there’s no water in the lungs but no way for air to get in.”

The incidents were reported Sunday afternoon within a span of 30 minutes. Sheriff’s deputies were first dispatched to Fife Lake at 5:30 p.m. to a report of an unresponsive male in the water near a beach area. Lt. Chris Clark said bystanders attempted CPR, but the victim was pronounced dead when medical personnel arrived.

”Half an hour later, one of our deputies was sent to the Sands Motel for a missing 16-year-old from Wyandotte,” Clark said.

Houghton said Smith was autistic and last seen by his stepfather on a paddleboard about 50 feet from a nearby dock. The teenager was missing for about two hours before the sheriff’s department marine division found him floating about 75 yards from the shore. Attempts to resuscitate the boy were unsuccessful and he was declared dead at the scene.

Chris McCoy, manager of the Sands Motel, said Smith’s family checked into the motel that day. He said one of his friend’s children saw the teen swimming and playing in the water that day.

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