Tragedy was averted last Saturday thanks to the quick reaction of a bystander who pulled a child from the Paluxy River’s rushing waters at a local park.
Just after 5 p.m. April 28, the Somervell County Sheriff’s Department received a 9-1-1 call from a park visitor who said that a child had fallen into the river and was not breathing.
Deputy Lincoln Matheny was the first official to arrive on the scene at the city of Glen Rose’s Big Rocks Park, but discovered a bystander had already pulled the 11-year-old boy from the waters.
According to Matheny, two men driving along Barnard Street past the riverfront park saw the boy get swept off the dam and down the spillway. The unknown passersby immediately stopped their vehicle and ran down to the riverbank to find a woman had reacted quickly and pulled the child out of the swift-moving water.
“Apparently the boy was carrying his inner tube across the dam and was swept off,” said Matheny, adding that the child was under the supervision of his 19 year old brother.
Luckily, another park visitor who witnessed the near drowning was a registered nurse and administered CPR on the young boy.
Also responding to the scene was City Fire Marshall Darrell Webb, who says when he arrived the child was conscious and breathing after being pulled from the waters near the former rock dam. “We were dispatched and expected the worst. When I got there he was sitting up and alert, and refused treatment by paramedics.”
The two boys, former residents of Glen Rose who now live in Dallas, reportedly went to Glen Rose Medical Center on their own after the incident for a medical evaluation, said Webb.
After speaking with several witnesses, Webb says he gathered that the older sibling tried to get his brother after he was washed from the top of the dam, but couldn’t swim against the fast-moving current. “The woman saw him and realized what was going on. That’s when she jumped in and rescued the boy.”
With the recent heavy rains that have fallen in the area, waterways are rushing near flood stage, says Webb, who added that anytime anyone enters the river they’re swimming at their own risk. “It’s pretty turbulent when the water is as high as it is. People look at it (river) and it appears fun, but they don’t realize the rip current’s strength. That spillway is so strong and is not designed for recreation.”
Webb said “common sense has to come into effect at some point” when visitors to the park or area rivers decide to take a plunge. “We realize accidents do happen, and thought this situation could have resulted in a fatality, but thankfully it didn’t turn out that way.”
Signs posted at Big Rocks Park warn visitors to not enter the river when water is flowing over the dam’s crest, and oftentimes, city staff will close the park’s gates to deter people from entering, said Dwain “Moose” Whitfield, streets and parks supervisor for the city of Glen Rose.
“When the water goes over the dam we shut the gates and lock it, and no one is supposed to go in there,” said Whitfield, adding that the Somervell County Sheriff’s Department also has authority to close the park.
Whitfield said a city employee is on-call during a heavy rain event and may be called to close the park at any time of day.
The signage posted near the dam also includes a warning and outlines the city’s ordinance making it against the law to walk across the spillway when water is flowing over the structure.
“That city ordinance can come with a fine from $25 to $500 if someone is caught,” said Whitfield. “The higher the water, the more dangerous the river can be. When it goes over the dam it causes a lot of re-circulation.”
Whitfield said the city closed the park Friday afternoon after the Paluxy began to rise, but apparently the gate was forced open allowing visitors to enter. “Weldon Mitchell called and asked me to close it, and the gates should have been closed all day Saturday and Sunday. I didn’t re-open the park until today (Tuesday) after the water level had gone down.”
The park’s supervisor says there’s no way to enforce the ordinance unless someone sees an individual on the dam or in the park when it is closed. “We don’t have anyone on duty all the time. They’re supposed to read the sign and abide by the posted warning. The gate stops the cars but it doesn’t prevent people from climbing over.”