This week’s reopening of Lake Mead National Recreation Area brought excitement to the ranks of Pumpkinman Triathlon competitors gathering in Boulder City, but was dimmed by tragedy as one of the competitors, retired Las Vegas high school principal Patrick Hayden, 59, died after participating in the swimming portion of the competition.
According to longtime Boulder City resident Jeff Sargeant, “Something had to make that happen.” Sargeant was a volunteer in the water who witnessed most of the activity before park rangers arrived.
“I was on the other side of the course, on the north end. I was following a group of swimmers, on a stand-up paddle board. I noticed there were two kayakers that were waving paddles, and one with a stand-up board, in a group, which is a signal there is an emergency. I saw them off in the distance. I left the group I was with and headed to them. I asked a woman at the finish line, ‘What’s going on?’ She said ‘I don’t know, I think there’s an emergency,’ so I headed out immediately. Pat Hayden was resting on top of a kayak. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ They said, ‘this guy’s unconscious, we need Park Service boats over here.’ Pat Hayden was not breathing, real pale, lifeless. They were 150 yards away and we signaled them, but they were slow to respond. The way they were, they were outside the course. There were lots of swimmers in the water, swimming different courses. It took them three, four, five minutes to arrive. The Park people were really being cautious, they didn’t want to run over a swimmer.”
Sargeant, who has been a safety volunteer at these events for three years, said he had never seen or heard of a death or injury before. At next month’s Iron Girl event at Lake Las Vegas, where he will be a safety volunteer once again, he wants to make sure nothing like this can happen.
“It’s still bothering me,” he said.
When asked about the safety procedures at the triathlon, Lake Mead National Recreation Area spokeswoman Christy Vanover said, “Whenever there’s a fatality in the park, we conduct a thorough board of review. If we find changes to be made, we look at what, if anything, could be done differently to prevent a situation like this.”
Vanover said safety procedures were put in place jointly by the event coordinator, BBSC Endurance Sports, and the Park Service.
“The Park Service had two patrol boats,” she said, “but the coordinator had boats as well.”
Kayakers and paddle boarders were provided by BBSC as part of their agreement, she said.
“The internal investigation will look at the response by our safety people and by the coordinator. We will make sure the appropriate measures were taken that are required by their permit. That’s just standard procedure with any investigation,” she said.
The Lake Mead National Recreation Area released a press release Saturday stating a National Park Service patrol boat had been flagged down by a kayaker patrolling the event at 8:55 a.m. It said Hayden was “unresponsive” and was given CPR. He was taken by ambulance to Boulder City Hospital and pronounced dead at 9:30 a.m.
The Clark County coroner’s office scheduled an autopsy to determine the cause of death.