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Mother seeks memorial for son, warning for others

Alyssa Jackson

Steven Hotz was just a 36-year-old guy who loved to work on cars and help anyone he could.

June 20, 2014, started out normally for him. He was on a boat with two friends, both of whom were swimming on one side of the craft. No one was wearing a life jacket, but they were all adults and assumed they would be fine.

Steven Hotz

Hotz's two friends were encouraging him to jump in the water, but Hotz was hesitant, his mother said. Finally, he jumped in on the opposite side of the boat. The current took him immediately.

Hotz was rushed to the hospital as soon as he was found, but he was pronounced dead.

That was two years ago, but it often seems like it was just yesterday for Hotz's mother, Gloria Apple. Since the accident, she's been trying to raise the funds to have a memorial to her son — and a warning to others — placed at the Goldsboro Fish and Boat Commission launch, where Hotz and his friends had entered the water that day.

The goal for Apple is to warn others that even calm-looking water can be dangerous. She wants everyone to wear a life jacket and be safer on the water, and she's hoping by showing that her son lost his life on Lake Frederick on the Susquehanna River, she can save someone else's.

"I lost a life, my son’s life, and I want people to know that it can happen to you, too," Apple said. "They didn’t have life jackets on. Sometimes you can be stubborn and think, 'I don’t need that. We’re adults, we can handle it.' Not true. You need to have them on, just in case."

Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016--Gloria Apple holds a photo of her son Steven Hotz who drowned in the Susquehanna River in 2014. She is working with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to have a memorial created in her son's name to be placed at the Goldsboro Fish and Boat Commission launch warning swimmers of the currents. Bill Kalina photo

Apple has been working with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to complete the steps necessary to put up the memorial. The commission approved her idea about a year ago, but she still needs help getting the funds for the memorial. She's building the plaque through Eby Granite Works, which specializes in memorials.

The company has told Apple the memorial will cost about $746. Apple said she has received two donations, but she still needs to raise $446. Once she has the money, Apple said she will figure out what the memorial will say. No matter what, it will encourage others to wear their life vests on the water.

"Currents don’t just wave a flag and say 'I’m here,' they’re just there," Apple said. "A life was taken, my son was taken, so be cautious. Wear your life jacket."

Boat safety: Eric Levis, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, echoed Apple's pleas for everyone to wear a life jacket while out on a waterway in Pennsylvania. It's also important that people know the water they are going out on, he said.

For example, people should do research before boating and find out how high the water is and how fast the current is going, Levis said. He pointed to mobile apps for smartphones that can send out text-message alerts warning users if there are potentially dangerous conditions at any given time, such as apps created by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Fish and Boat Commission makes reports of all boating accidents each year available online. In 2015, there was a decrease in accidents. There were 58 recreational accidents, which was 17 percent fewer than 2014, according to documents on the Fish and Boat Commission's website. Four of the boating accidents resulted in fatalities.

In 2014, the year that Hotz died, there were 70 recreational boating accidents, of which 17 resulted in a fatality. There also were 17 fatalities in 2013, which had 62 total boating accidents.

Levis said in many of the reported accidents, those involved were not wearing life jackets.

"We absolutely want people to wear life jackets," Levis said. "We know that life jackets save lives."

He also said that people have a tendency to overestimate their swimming abilities and underestimate the current. Even people who swim on teams or have been swimming their entire lives might not understand that swimming in a pool and swimming in a river or a lake are different because of the current and depth of the water, Levis said.

"Don’t overestimate your swimming abilities, but also know the waters that you’re on," Levis said. "A lot of times people underestimate the current and how fast the water is moving in rivers. You may look at it and think it’s not going that fast, but it is."

If you are interested in donating to Steven Hotz's memorial, checks can be made out to Granite Works Memorials and sent to P.O. Box 366, Manchester, 17345, Attn: Lisa.