Dozens of flotation rings to be installed at Tempe Town Lake

Sean Bickings drowned in Tempe Town Lake in May 2022.
Sean Bickings drowned in Tempe Town Lake in May 2022.(Tempe Police Department)
Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 3:33 PM MST
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TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — Dozens of flotation rings are set to be installed at Tempe Town Lake next week, the city announced on Friday, days after a lawsuit was filed against Tempe by the family of a man who drowned in the lake last year. The city says 37 flotation rings will be installed at various access points of Tempe Town Lake starting on Monday, and the project is expected to be complete in the coming weeks.

Sean Bickings died just over a year ago, on May 28, 2022, after jumping into the lake while trying to avoid arrest. Officers did not follow him into the water. They called for a police boat to respond, which was standard procedure. The story made national headlines, as body-cam videos showed officers on the shore and the bridge watching as Bickings went under. City officials say police are not trained (or required) to perform water rescues.

In August, the city implemented new rescue procedures for Tempe police. All officers received training on water rescue throw bags and started carrying them. At the time, Tempe said the water rescue rings, attached to 100-foot ropes, would be installed around Tempe Town Lake in the fall. However, the installation didn’t happen, with the city blaming the delay on supply chain issues. Tempe told Arizona’s Family the rings would be installed in early June.

Bickings’ family filed a notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in November and officially filed on May 26. “The City of Tempe and Tempe law enforcement promised new safety measurements following Sean’s tragic death, and a year later, we have yet to see these actions implemented,” the family’s attorney, Benjamin Taylor, said in a statement earlier this week. “We hope this lawsuit will encourage the City of Tempe to take the necessary steps to ensure no one else carelessly loses their life by drowning in Tempe Town Lake.”

In Friday’s announcement, Tempe said nine additional flotation rings will also be installed at Kiwanis Park Lake in south Tempe. According to the city, the plan for proper placement and installation took time, adding that rings and cabinets also needed to be customized for ADA accessibility. The city also stresses that recreational swimming is not allowed at either lake except during special events.

Below is a map of where the flotation rings are set to be installed:

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