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MIDDLETON, Wis. – A Middleton family’s tragedy followed sparks the first of its kind rules to regulate Wisconsin’s rafting industry.
In 2013, FOX media partner, News 3 uncovered rafting is not regulated by the state. Wisconsin’s boating laws also don’t make rafters wear helmets or life jackets.
Lina Vergara had on a jacket when she was rafting the Wolf River in 2012, but it popped off when she fell in and the 20-year-old drowned. Her family has spoken opening with Jennifer Hoff about their fight for safety upgrades, which led to her investigation.
The changes aren’t statewide. Rather, they apply to people who rent equipment from outfitters along the Wolf River that flows through the Menominee Indian Tribe Reservation, which governs itself.
Tribal police officers and wardens will enforce the new rules, which are some of the first in recent memory.
“I’m not sure when the last time was they took a hard look at their rafting laws,” said Rep. Diane Hesselbein, who partnered with the Vergara’s to draft Lina’s Law. “I’m grateful the Menominee Nation took it seriously.”
Lina was rafting the rain-swollen Wolf River in July of 2012 with equipment from Shotgun Eddy Raft Rental. The News 3 Investigation further found rafters sign a release to recognize the risks and Shotgun Eddy recommends they wear life jackets.
Until now, there was no law, requirements or regulations to protect rafters.
“She touched so many people’s lives when she was alive and now, even after being gone, she continues,” said Lina’s father, Alejandro Vergara.
The Menominee Indian Tribe adopted the law that in part, makes outfitters provides helmets and requires rafters always wear them. The rules also require anyone 16-years-old and younger wear a life jacket at all times.
“People will report when they see things aren’t happening that way,” said Rep. Hesselbein. “I don’t really foresee a problem, though, because the Menominee Tribe is very good at following rules.”
“To finally get that call that it passed, like I always say, is bittersweet, said Coni Vergara-Duhr, Lina’s sister.
The Vergara family’s goal started with a petition, then a yearly run in Lina’s honor, followed by these new regulations to not only make Wisconsin more safe, but keep Lina’s memory alive.
The rules also posts warning signs at Smokey Falls, a dangerous section, as well as close the Wolf River if it’s flowing too fast.
The rules go into effect immediately, just as the summer rafting season ramps up.
Tribal officers can fine people who don’t follow the rules anywhere from $250 to $450. Rafters who don’t follow the rules closes the Wolf River if it’s flowing
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