Family of drowned Weber County man hopes free life jackets will save lives
Michelle Tessier, Deseret News
WILLARD BAY STATE PARK — Jared Bradley paused as he looked at the life jacket hanging on the newly constructed stand at Willard Bay's South Marina.
The jacket wouldn't bring back his brother, but maybe it would save someone else's.
Spirits were high as friends and family of Brigham Bradley built the stand Monday evening, teasing each other as they worked and watched the sun set out over the bay.
And they talked about Brigham.
"He was just solid. He was always pulling for the underdog," said Jared Bradley, recalling his brother's kind heart and unique sense of humor.
Brigham Bradley, a Weber County sheriff's correctional officer, drowned at Willard Bay last year when his jet ski broke down out on the water. He wasn't wearing a life jacket, a simple precaution that his family believes would have saved him.
In his memory and with the hopes of saving other lives, the Bradley family and the Hale Family Life Jacket Foundation put two free life jacket stands at Willard Bay on Monday, located at the North and South marinas.
Each stand holds about 15 jackets, purchased through a grant from SelectHealth and donations from Weber County Search and Rescue, and bears a sign explaining how to find a proper fit. A third stand was placed at Utah Lake earlier this year.
The idea is simple. If someone doesn't have a life jacket, they can pick one off the stand, use it for the day and return it before they leave. There's no reason to be without one, said Jared Bradley.
"A lot of people think, 'Oh, they're uncomfortable. I don't want to wear one. I'm not going to go in the water.' You never know what's going to happen. Just put it on," he said. "If it prevents one person from drowning, it was worth putting up."
Requests to build the two life jacket stands began in March, hitting a few complications along the way. Ultimately the Bradley family wasn't allowed to include a memorial rock with their life jacket stands but went on without it.
Now that the life jacket stands are in place, they can continue to heal.
"It's been a really positive way to deal with a tragedy," said JoAnne Duke, a friend of the family and representative for the life jacket foundation. "We were excited to bring in the Bradley family. We've been through what they went through, so it was great to pull them in and give them something positive to look forward to."
The Hale and Bradley families grew up together, and both have been tragically altered by drownings. In 2010, Duke's two adult brothers, uncle and a family friend drowned at American Falls Reservoir in Idaho. Their experiences show how quickly and how unexpectedly things can go wrong, Jared Bradley said.
"Most people think, 'It could happen, but it's not going to happen to me,' until it does," he said. "When you get that call and there's nothing you can do to change that, there's nothing worse in the world."
Duke urged Utahns to take advantage of the stands when they're out on the lake, and then to return the jackets at the end of the day. Unfortunately, all of the donated jackets have gone missing from the Utah Lake stand, she said.
The foundation has since put up seven free life jacket stands across Idaho, including three at American Falls Reservoir. They next hope to add a stand at Pineview Reservoir in Utah as they share their message: It's only a life preserver if you have it on.
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