Standing on a peninsula just beyond the fishing docks at Springfield Lake (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

A 35-year-old man drowned Tuesday afternoon at Lake Springfield. According to a Missouri State Highway Patrol report, John Evan Hance of Springfield was swimming near a low-head dam at about 5 p.m. Tuesday when he began to struggle, went under the water and did not resurface. 

According to a KY3 report, witnesses said Hance did not resurface after he jumped off a dock. A video, shared on a local Facebook group, appears to show witnesses reacting to the swimmer in distress. Paramedics also tended to a man who jumped in the water to try to rescue Hance, according to KY3. Springfield Fire Department rescue crews were the first responders, and were assisted by a Missouri Water Patrol search team. Hance’s body was recovered at about 8:45 p.m. According to a fire department spokeswoman, Springfield police are investigating the drowning. 

On Tuesday, a GoFundMe fundraising event was created to help Hance’s family pay for funeral and memorial services. In the description, the event creator wrote that Hance had been fishing at the lake — “doing what he loved” — and had also tried to swim across it. Those details have not been confirmed by authorities. The event creator wrote on the GoFundMe page “my heart and prayers go out to all of his friends and family.” The creator did not respond to an email seeking comment.

On Wednesday, a family member created another GoFundMe to help the family cover expenses, writing “everything will help and prayers are needed for us all at this time of grief.” 

Lake Springfield safety

View of the fishing docs looking out onto the dam at Lake Springfield. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Speaking generally about swimming safety, Springfield Fire Department Chief David Pennington said that Lake Springfield is a no-swimming lake, and that rescue crews have been called to the lake at times to assist kayakers whose boats tipped over and were unable to get back in them. Whether people intentionally or unintentionally swim in the lake, Pennington said it is a deceptively challenging body of water. 

“You have to keep in mind that the James (River) runs through there,” Pennington said. “So there’s a main channel that’s about eight to 10 feet deep. Now, if it’s at flood stage, it’s different. But if you drew a line (and) followed the river down past the boathouse (where it) kind of snakes around the dam, it’s about eight feet in the center, eight to 10 feet. Then it kind of planes out like an inverted U, or just like a U with long sides. And then it’s three to four feet deep. You can walk out there. But there is a deeper area, and if you don’t know how to swim, or if you’re not a strong swimmer or if there are other factors that would limit your ability to swim, it could be dangerous for you.”

Pennington, a longtime water rescue team leader and rescue diver, said that no matter where people choose to swim this summer, he recommends that they not swim alone and use personal floatation devices. 

The National Drowning Prevention Alliance offers a set of 10 tips for open water swimming. The list is available here.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson