Mirror Lake poses a real threat for trespassers
Published: Thursday, November 17, 2005
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 01:06
For some students the ritual of jumping into Mirror Lake the Thursday night before the Michigan football game is an innocent display of school pride.
This ritualistic leap, however, can have negative consequences, such as injury, damage to the lake, disease and legal troubles.
On Nov. 2, 1985, Kristyn Ann Elliot, a sophomore on Ohio State's swimming team, was returning home from the Buckeyes' shocking 22-13 football victory over the then-No. 1 Iowa Hawkeyes, when she saw a friend standing by Mirror Lake.
Elliot ran toward her friend as if she was going to push him into the lake, said John Alton, Elliot's lawyer, in an interview last year. The friend moved and Elliot was forced to attempt a shallow dive into the lake, hitting her head on a limestone planter.
Elliot broke her cervical vertebrae, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down, Alton said.
Elliot sued OSU for negligence and lost her first court case. The case went to trial again in 1993 and was eventually settled out of court, with Elliot receiving $1.375 million.
The group of limestone planters were placed in the lake sometime during the 1930s or '40s. They were removed shortly after Elliot's first case ended.
The removal of the planters was not the only change made to Mirror Lake over the years.
In 2002, Mirror Lake underwent a five-month renovation that cost nearly $575,000. The changes included the lake's old limestone walls being replaced with concrete, according to the Physical Facilities Web site. New sidewalks and furniture were also added near the lake.
"The floor of the lake is smooth now. It's mostly brick and concrete, and the bricks are mortared in," said Colin McBride, construction manager for the University Engineers Office, in an interview last year. "But there is a stone structure in the central eastern section of the lake that used to be a fountain base."
Even with these changes, three injuries occurred during last year's jump.
"One was an injury that resulted out of a fight. I also think we had a broken ankle," said Rick Amweg, assistant chief of University Police, in an interview last year.
Students are not the only ones paying a price for the Mirror Lake jumps. Last year's Mirror Lake jump cost the university more than $11,600.
"The cost to repair the turf, stone walls and ground cover was $9,505," said Stephen W. Volkmann, university landscape architect, in an e-mail to The Lantern.
The total cost of staff time needed to clean up debris and mud caused by the Mirror Lake jump prior to last year's Michigan game cost $2,100. According to the e-mail, the cost to repair the Mirror Lake fountain was not available - but preliminary estimates from last year placed the total damage between $20 - 30,000, said Dave Sweet, administrative assistant for marketing and communications for Physical Facilities in an interview last year.
Other than physical injuries to themselves and the possibility of destroying university property, students must also consider other dangers before jumping into the lake. The water itself could be hiding diseases such as Salmonella.
"The big thing about it is that like any big natural body of water, it's not sterile. If you take a big mouthful of it, you're going to get what's in the lake in your mouth," said Dale Harmon, a public health sanitarian for the Columbus Health Department, in an interview conducted last year. "Birds fly over it. Animals run near it. There's going to be fecal matter in the water. There's always the risk of pathogens."
According to a June 1, 1970 Lantern article, an unidentified junior who went swimming in Mirror Lake several times that spring was diagnosed with tetanus twice in two years. At the time, "the average total coliform bacteria count for the lake was 18 times the acceptable level for swimming," according to the article.
There are also legal ramifications for jumping into the lake.
"The policy is that there is no trespassing in Mirror Lake," Amweg said in an interview last year. "But we're dealing with 5-6,000 people. You have a crowd control issue with that many people. We obviously don't condone it, but we don't have enough officers to stop it."
Officers did confront students that were jumping head-first into the lake, Amweg said in last year's interview.
The normal punishment for jumping into the lake is a citation for disorderly conduct, he said. If a student is asked to get out and they refuse, they could be charged with criminal trespassing.
As far as this year is concerned Amweg recommends students to not go in the lake at all.
"Mirror Lake is not designed for swimming and wading," he said. Amweg also said signs are placed around the lake, very clearly stating that individuals should not enter the waters.
A police presence will be at the lake and other areas around campus to ensure the safety of individuals, Amweg said.