Former legislator Tokuda dies at Clinton's Deer Lake

Kip Tokuda - Photo courtesy of Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington
Kip Tokuda
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington

Former state Rep. Kip Tokuda went fishing on Deer Lake Saturday morning.

A heart attack claimed his life while he was angling from his small kayak.

“He was not submerged, he was still on the kayak,” said Robert Bishop, Island County’s coroner.

Tokuda was 66.

First responders arrived shortly after 11:30 a.m. Attempts by South Whidbey Fire/EMS, Whidbey General Hospital and a doctor on vacation in the area to revive Tokuda were unsuccessful.

Paul Busch, assistant chief of South Whidbey Fire/EMS, said Tokuda’s kayak tipped over after the heart attack began, sending him into the water. He was able to yell for help, however, and was heard by at least two people also at the lake.

Someone in a boat rowed to him and tried to pull him from the water. Tokuda was unconscious at the time, however. During the attempted rescue, the person in the row boat also tipped over.

Another boater retrieved both people and took them to the public boat launch as first responders arrived. Busch estimates Tokuda was on the water about 15 minutes after the heart attack started.

“He was unresponsive from the beginning,” Bishop said.

“They had really good CPR and he was completely unresponsive.”

Tokuda, of Seattle, has a family vacation home in Freeland. He was well known for work in the state House of Representatives as a champion of racial justice and youth empowerment from 1994 to 2002.

The Seattle Democrat, a son of Japanese American parents interned during World War II, founded the Asian Community Leadership Foundation of Seattle and was a past president of the Japanese American Citizens League.

Recently, Tokuda was appointed to the Community Police Commission to oversee Department of Justice mandated reforms to the Seattle Police Department after findings of excessive force used on minorities.

It was not a busy day on the popular lake in Clinton. Busch said he saw only the three boats on the water, the kayak, row boat and motor boat.

Though he did not drown, Tokuda was not wearing a life jacket or personal flotation device.

Busch could not recall the last drowning in Deer Lake.

“It’s been a while,” he said.

Hypertensive heart disease, commonly called heart attacks, doesn’t seem to be uncommon among kayakers around Whidbey Island.

Bishop said he recalled a few such incidents on Puget Sound since becoming county coroner.

“We’ve had kayakers who’ve had heart attacks before,” Bishop said. “It just happens.”

Tokuda is survived by his wife, Barbara Lui, and two daughters.

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