My husband, three kids, and I vacationed in Ely over Labor Day Weekend and made a stop in Duluth on our way home, as we do every year. I have been coming to Duluth since I was a kid, and I love bringing my own kids up there to experience the magic of Lake Superior.
We were there Sunday. We took a Vista tour, saw a ship go out, ate at the Sports Garden, threw some rocks — the usual stuff. We walked over the Minnesota Slip bridge twice.
Upon noticing the section of the slip where the William A. Irvin usually sits, I distinctly remember saying out loud, “I can’t believe they don’t have this fenced off. Anyone could fall right in.”
Earlier that very day, University of Minnesota Duluth student Jacob Lavoie may have done just that. While we don’t know exactly what happened to him, his body was found in the slip Friday. Was he intoxicated? Maybe. Was there an altercation? Perhaps. We may never know.
What we also may never know is if it could have been prevented. Had there been a fence or some other barrier there, between him and the water, would he instead have headed to class the following dreary Monday morning? Maybe grabbing a coffee, saying hello to friends on the way? Again, things we will never know.
What we do know is that a family, friends, and a community, are grieving a terrible loss. A promising young life, over in an instant.
My three kids all hope to attend UMD someday. My oldest is 14, so the reality isn’t far away. They know and love the big lake, and they know how unpredictable and dangerous it can be. I worry, will they be safe? Will they make good choices? Can I pound it into their heads enough to be cautious and to never go near the water alone at night?
I implore the city of Duluth to please consider blocking off the exposed section of water in the slip. I realize there is no way to guarantee safety with Lake Superior. However, if one life can be preserved, if one person can wake up with bruises from running into a fence instead of not waking up at all, it’d be worth it. It’d be worth the time, money, and effort to block off that water.
When I made my remark about someone falling into the slip, in my head I was thinking about my 3- and 4-year-old niece and nephew and how they are curious and love the water and would run right up to it if given the chance. Never did I expect to discover that on the very same day a grown man had found himself in peril in that very spot.
It’s a tragic loss of life for the family, the university, and, really, the city of Duluth. Could it have been prevented? We don’t know. But shouldn’t we put our best effort forth in doing all we can to make beautiful Duluth as safe as possible?
I later learned there are no ladders in the slip. I don’t know if this is the case, but, if so, that should be remedied. Even in broad daylight, if someone fell in, what would they do? How long could they tread water? Perhaps a ladder could be built in the slip in Jacob’s honor. Jacob’s Ladder.
I don’t claim to have solutions, only suggestions. I hope something can be done to make Duluth just a little safer for everyone and maybe prevent another tragedy from happening. Rest in peace, Jacob.
Becky Berry lives with her husband and three children in Robbinsdale, Minn.