Traverse City News and Events

Nonprofit Works To Recover Those Lost In Lakes

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 11, 2019

Losing a loved one to drowning is one kind of terrible tragedy. Not knowing where their body is, except that it’s out there in a certain section of water, is another kind altogether.

As Patrick Sullivan writes in this week's Northern Express, sister publication of The Ticker, that’s something Kelly Dalton learned after her son, 21-year-old Tyler Lee Spink, drowned while kayaking with a friend in Benzie County’s Platte Bay on Labor Day 2016. Spink’s body was recovered this July by a Wisconsin-based nonprofit called Bruce’s Legacy.

“We lived almost two years without having him, and now it’s been about six months since he’s been recovered, and I can tell you, 100 percent, there is a difference,” Dalton says. “I could not get past that day, Sept. 5, 2016. Every day, every single night, I saw my son in that lake, and I wanted him out. No family should be left in that situation.”

Following Spink’s disappearance, the U.S. Coast Guard searched by air for 28 hours; state police and Benzie County Sheriff’s deputies also searched for three days. Searches cannot go on indefinitely, however; especially in a body of water as vast as Lake Michigan. “It’s just, case closed, and you’re supposed to move on,” Dalton says. “I get it. You will be forever grieving. It’s just a different process.”

Enter Keith Cormican and his partners, Beth Darst, Drew Morris, and Kathy Morris, of Bruce’s Legacy. After repeated searches over 21 months, they found Spink on July 19, 2018, at a depth of 180 feet, by using a remote-controlled underwater vehicle. Their dedication left a lasting impression on Dalton. “It’s devastating, but at least I have a peace within me, because he’s not in that lake any longer,” she says.

Today, Dalton hopes to make her son’s death meaningful as a lesson to teach people about water safety and to raise money for Bruce’s legacy. “Tyler would have wanted something positive to come out of this, so I needed to do that,” Dalton says. She uses the Facebook page she started amid the search for her son to spread a message about water safety, the importance of using the right kind of kayak for open water, and the value of life jackets. She figures since she’s got access to those thousands of followers, maybe she can reach some of them and prevent something like what happened to Tyler from happening to them.

“If it helps to inform someone out there to think twice before making such a critical decision, it’s worth it,” she says.

Read more about Bruce's Legacy and Dalton's efforts to support the nonprofit and its cause in this week's Northern Express story, "Lost in the Lake." The Northern Express is available to read online, or pick up a free copy at one of nearly 700 spots in 14 counties across northern Michigan.

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