Drowning was 16th search of summer on Wilson Creek

Victim's name still not released
Sep. 04, 2013 @ 08:15 AM

The name of the 21-year-old man who drowned in Wilson Creek on Monday was still being withheld Tuesday because the Caldwell County Sheriff's Office was having difficulty reaching his immediate family in Guatemala.

The man, who had come with cousins and friends from Morganton, was overtaken just before 5 p.m. Monday by heavy currents in an area known as "the bathtub," popular with swimmers and the same general area where two Charlotte-area visitors, 10-year-old Delilah Lovett and 48-year-old Juan Alberdi, drowned two months ago.

Rescuers pulled the man from the water about 7 p.m. in the same area where he disappeared. Rescue crews initially thought he had been pinned beneath a rock but found the body simply was being pushed down by strong currents. 

The search for the man was the 16th search and rescue or recovery operation on the creek since July 1.

The creek, more accurately described as a turbulent river in spots, has long been a summer destination for visitors. The geography of the creek forms numerous pools along the way, including the bathtub area and the nearby Lady of the Rock.

But the area has gotten an unusually high amount of rain this summer, which has often kept the water dangerously high and fast.

"We've had a lot of people say they've done this before," Collettsville Fire and Rescue Capt. Larry Price said. "But they need to look at the water and the current before deciding to get in or not."

Swimming in Wilson Creek is allowed but discouraged for those without a life jacket or for inexperienced swimmers. Officials plan to install signs long Brown Mountain Beach Road, which snakes alongside the creek, discouraging swimming.

Even the divers involved in Monday's search needed to be tethered by a rope to keep from being swept away. The area had received up to 4 inches of rain Friday through Sunday, including heavy rains Sunday afternoon that prompted a flash flood warning, and the creek was still 10 to 12 feet deep at the bathtub area Monday, up "moderately" from normal, Price said.

"The water is a lot stronger than normal because of the water being up some," he said.

The frequent rescues have taken a toll on the rescuers, many of whom are volunteers.

"We know we have a job to do, but it's heart-breaking to still lose lives," Price said.


Wilson Creek sirens

Officials still hope to test sirens designed to sound a warning in case of flash flood or tornado warnings, which have been installed in five spots along Wilson Creek, in mid-September but are having electrical problem with two of the sirens. A firm test date has not been set. Had the sirens already been operational, they would not have prevented Monday's drowning. The most recent flash flood warning in that area was Sunday afternoon.