Rule 1 / Case 1

Always Wear Your PFD (Lifejacket)


Sheldon Olsen and Jace Olsen March 17th, 2012 – Lake Limerick, Washington

The warm sun came out on Saturday, but the water was still bitterly cold on Lake Limerick, WA. It was Julie Olsen’s birthday, and her husband Sheldon, 31, wanted to give her a break and let her get some rest, so he took their two year old son Jace for a canoe ride around 5pm. Sheldon had recently finished Optometry school in Portland, OR, and the family had just moved to the area and was living in a home on the lake shore.


Father and son were due back around 6:30pm, less than an hour before sunset, and when they didn’t return by 6:48pm, Julie called the Mason County Sheriff’s office and reported them missing. Sheriff’s deputies and search teams with divers and three boats responded and arrived at the lake after dark. Witnesses at the lake clubhouse reported that they had seen Sheldon and Jace in a canoe as late as 6:13pm, but later spotted the canoe floating empty and apparently called 911.

Although Limerick Lake is a small body of water that covers 129 acres, the search for Sheldon and Jace was greatly complicated by darkness. The canoe, with two life jackets inside, was quickly located, but it wasn’t until 9:20pm that little Jace was found floating face-down in the water. He was not wearing a life jacket.

The search for Sheldon continued without success until 11pm. It was resumed the next morning with 14 divers and boats using sonar gear. The lake has an average depth of only 9 feet, but the water is murky with very poor visibility, and it wasn’t until a week later, as the family was holding a memorial service for Jace, that Sheldon’s body was found.

Case Note:

A rare, sunny day in early spring lured an unprepared father and son out onto lethally cold water, where all it took to kill them was a little mistake in balance. The air temperature has no bearing on cold water safety.

Major Contributing Factors

  • No PFD (Lifejacket)

  • Not Dressed For Water Temperature

  • Unable To Recover From Capsize

  • Unable to Call For Help

  • Unaware of Hazards

  • Paddling Solo