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Had it been raining on March 23, 2021, like it was that same day a year later, it’s unlikely Zachary Rager would have jumped into the Chehalis River from the railroad trestle bridge along the Willapa Hills Trail. 

But it was sunny and 72 degrees that day in 2021, and Rager told his friends that he wanted to jump from the bridge into the river — which is something he had done before with no problems — but this time, after he started swimming to the bank, he called out to his friends for help due to the cold temperature of the water.

Rager was most likely experiencing cold water shock — a physical reaction to sudden submersion in cold water that greatly increases chances of drowning.

One of Rager’s friends got in the water and reached Rager but also began to struggle due to the effects of the cold water. The friend safely made it back to shore, but during the swim, Rager had reportedly gone limp and slipped out of his friend’s grasp.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office led a search with the Thurston County Dive Team and divers recovered Rager’s remains from the river on April 19 . . .

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State Rep. Peter Abbarno talks about “Zack’s Law,” before releasing balloons in remembrance of Zachary Rager Wednesday afternoon along the Willapa Hills Trail.

Soon after Rager’s death, Rager’s family began petitioning lawmakers for legislation to erect informational signs warning people about the dangers of cold water shock.

“This family has not only brought a community together but educated us about something many of us didn’t know anything about, which is cold water shock, how people can drown from it and how in Washington state and in North America, it happens more than we think,” said Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, on Wednesday.

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Abbarno sponsored a bill nicknamed “Zack’s Law” in the most-recent legislative session which, if passed, would have allowed cities, towns and counties to erect informational signs near bridges that would warn about the hazards of cold water shock with the goal of reducing recreational jumping.

While Zack’s Law failed to pass in the short 2022 legislative session, Abbarno has said he intends to reintroduce the legislation in the upcoming long session.

Read More in The Chronicle

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