Sioux Falls Officials Address Safety After 5-Year-Old Girl Drowns At Falls Park

Sioux Falls, S.D. – 5-year-old Maggie Jo Zaiger of Audobon, Iowa is the third drowning victim at Falls Park since 2013.

“Don’t try and jump in yourself, don’t waste time.  Immediately call 911,” says Sioux Falls Fire Rescue Chief Brad Goodroad.

A similar situation occurred in 2013 where two people drowned after jumping into the river to save a special needs child who fell in.  After that incident, the city considered fencing off the edge of the rocks but decided to go a different route.

“One of the recommendations at that time was that we not do that because they felt like it would impede public safety’s ability to respond quickly.  And to have to remove fence and the other reality is that you just don’t know to what extent that it will actually keep people out,” says Sioux Falls Parks And Recreation Director Don Kearney.

Instead, Parks and Recreation installed signs that illustrate and describe the dangers of the falls.  They also have pictures that non-English language speakers would be able to interpret.

In 2016, the city brought in an independent loss control specialist to do a safety audit at Falls Park to tour the park, review potential hazards and previous incidents.

“The report that they brought back to the city didn’t include any additional recommendations in terms of the river hazards,” City of Sioux Falls Emergency Manager Regan Smith tells us.

Police say Maggie Zaiger was on the edge of the rocks Sunday trying to touch the large accumulation of foam from the river before she fell in.

Because the accretion of foam is a natural phenomenon, Sioux Falls Parks & Rec officials say there’s not much they can do about it.

“It’s the phosphorus in the water and then the agitation that the falls creates.  And so our environmental team has advised us on why that occurs and there’s really not a lot you can do about it,” says Director Kearney.

Director Kearney says his team will review this matter to see if further steps need to be taken to make Falls Park safer.

Meanwhile, City Councilwoman Theresa Stehly is advocating for temporary barriers during the spring season so visitors can enjoy the beauty of the falls and still be safe.

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