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Boating Accident Victim Recovered from Richland Chambers Reservoir
Search Continues for Victim’s Grandson
AUSTIN, Texas — Divers from the Texas Department of Public Safety recovered the body of Jerry King, 72, of Athens from Richland Chambers Reservoir at 9:30 a.m. today. Texas game wardens earlier had identified a return on side-scan sonar that proved to be King.
King and his grandson, 17-year-old Jerrod Rachel, were reported missing March 24 after King’s pontoon boat was found lodged in standing timber near Hickey Island north of the U.S. Hwy 287 bridge on the 41,000-acre lake in Navarro County.
A fisherman at Oak Cove Marina reported seeing King’s pontoon boat drift past Tuesday afternoon but initially thought the occupants were just out of sight. The boat’s global positioning system indicated that it began drifting approximately one-half mile south of the bridge. Game wardens reconstructed the boat’s track across the lake using the GPS and have focused search efforts along a broad swath of water along that path.
Game Warden Capt. Gary Dugan said that this morning’s recovery gives searchers confidence that they are looking in the right area for Rachel, who is still missing.
"It’s been a tough week out here on the water for everyone, but an especially difficult time for the family of these two men," said Dugan. "We’re going to keep working this until we can return Jerrod to his family so they can have some closure."
Four game warden boats, a boat from the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office and a command center from the Navarro County Sheriff’s Office are all on scene as the search continues today.
While the accident is still under investigation, Dugan said that damage to railing near the bow of the boat indicates that one of the men may have fallen or been swept overboard, and the other man then jumped in to rescue him. Neither man is believed to have been wearing a life jacket.
Thursday, game wardens recovered the body of Jarod David Dawkins, 27, who was missing since the boat he was on capsized March 17 near Sparta Valley Park on Belton Lake. Dawkins’ body was recovered at 9:03 a.m. just north of the water treatment plant near Westcliff Park. One other man died in that accident while three other passengers survived.
"Life jackets are a big issue," said Game Warden Maj. Alfonso Campos, chief of marine safety enforcement for TPWD. "About 90 percent of the boating fatality victims we recover are not wearing life jackets. Children 12-years-old and younger are required by law to wear life jackets anytime a vessel is not anchored or tied-up. If adults would make that leap and think of a life jacket the same way we think of seatbelts in automobiles, we’d have a lot fewer fatalities."
"The investigation is ongoing, but it appears that the boat was overloaded, nobody had a life jacket on and alcohol was involved," said Game Warden Maj. Rolly Correa, who led the Belton Lake search. "People who live on the lake or spend a lot of time out there sometimes get complacent and just get in the boat and go. This is a tragic reminder that accidents like this can happen to anyone and can happen in seconds."
Despite increased boating safety outreach and education efforts and enforcement of safe boating regulations across the state, 2008 saw a 10-year high in the number of boating accidents (271) and fatalities (61) across Texas. At the same time, the number of registered boats in the state has fallen slightly.
"Sadly, nearly all of the boating fatalities we’ve seen in the past year were preventable," said Campos. "Boaters under the age of 18 are required to complete an approved boater education course, but that $13, one-day class is optional for everyone else. We believe even the most basic boater safety education makes a difference on the water."
Campos said that approximately one-third of boating fatalities in Texas are alcohol-related, and suggested that boaters designate a sober driver on the water and for the ride home. A person convicted of boating while intoxicated may be jailed for up to 180 days and fined as much as $2,000, as well as lose their automobile driver’s license.
For more information about safe boating, please visit: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/boat/responsible/index.phtml
For more information about approved boater education courses, go to: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/learning/boater_education/index.phtml
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