HARRISON TWP. (WWJ) – Authorities say the Chief of the Southfield Fire Department is presumed to have drowned on Lake St. Clair in an incident that saw the driver of his boat arrested for operating while intoxicated.
Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said 58-year-old Keith Rowley, of Milford, was out on the lake with three friends around 7 p.m. Friday when he went overboard.READ MORE: Harper Woods Man Charged In Slaying Of Girlfriend's 8-Month-Old Son
“They were headed back in and they were about a mile off of Belle Maer Harbor Marina,” Wickersham told WWJ’s Jason Scott. “Witnesses on the boat report that his hat flew off and went into the water. They were going at a slow troll and he jumped in the water to retrieve his hat, then it appeared that he may have had some type of distress.”
Rowley’s friends tried to help him, but were unsuccessful.
“Due to the high winds, they tried to turn the boat around and get close. They report that they were unable to get close enough to throw a life ring to him and then he went under,” said Wickersham.
Police quickly responded to the scene and launched a search operation. They also interviewed Rowley’s friends, a 55-year-old Rochester Hills woman, a 38-year-old Bloomfield Township woman and a 55-year-old Troy man.
“Once our deputies arrived and began gathering information, it was apparent that the operator of that vessel was intoxicated and he was taken into custody,” Wickersham said.
The search for a body continued into Saturday and was suspended at 9 p.m., scheduled to resume at 7 a.m. Sunday.
The Troy man was arrested for operating a watercraft while intoxicated. His name was not released.READ MORE: ACLU Sues Michigan State Police, Claims Racial Profiling, Black Drivers Pulled Over More
Deputies with the Macomb County Sheriff’s Marine Division and the U.S. Coast Guard tried to locate Rowley throughout the evening, but were unsuccessful. Wickersham said the search has now turned into a recovery mission.
“We’ll be setting off a full dive team operation this morning and as long as we have daylight and then men are able to stay out there, we’re going to do our best to recover the body today,” he said.
Former Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, now a Congresswoman for Michigan’s 14th District, said she’s known Rowley for about 20 years.
“I am extremely sad about this event. I’m just really hurt that we’ve lost a great guy. Amazing guy, very committed to the community, just really respected in his profession by his colleagues and his peers. On top of that, a guy that really just had a passion,” Lawrence told WWJ’s Lauren Barthold.
Lawrence said she’s remaining hopeful the situation could still come to a positive ending.
“I’m prayerful and hopeful but really, really just sad and concerned right now,” she said. “This is a time when community comes together, we reflect on our positive memories and just depend on each other. He has a beautiful family, one that he was very proud of, and they are part of our family, too, here in Southfield.”
No matter the outcome, Lawrence said the incident should serve as a reminder about safety on the water.
“For everyone, it doesn’t matter how often you go out on the water and how good you can swim, please always practice the highest level of safety when you’re on water. And the highest level is a life jacket,” she said. “Sometimes because we think we’re great swimmers or we live on the water and we’re out there all the time, that we’re ok. But we’re not.”MORE NEWS: Woman Finds 95-Year-Old Message In A Bottle In Michigan
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