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Details added in drowning probe
Official: Witcher was underwater about 17 minutes
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
It appears that after lifeguards at Fairy Stone State Park were notified, Kerion Jykeem Witcher was under water for about 17 minutes before being pulled out.
That’s according to Gary Waugh, public relations manager at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. He said he hopes the investigation into Witcher’s July 4 drowning death will be completed soon.
“There was an eyewitness, amateur photo buff who happened to be on the beach shooting photos,” Waugh said Monday.
The time-stamped photos showed at 4:52 p.m. the beach was normal, at 4:55 p.m. the beach was being cleared and at 5:12 p.m. Witcher was brought out of the water, Waugh said.
He added that indicates the lifeguards must have been notified between 4:52 and 4:55 p.m.
A swimmer found Witcher submerged and brought him to the surface, Waugh said. He added that lifeguards “engaged in pulling him (Witcher) to the shore,” but Waugh didn’t know if the swimmer who found Witcher submerged was involved in that.
Waugh said at least one nurse, an emergency medical technician (EMT) and lifeguards were involved in efforts to resuscitate Witcher.
According to computer-aided dispatch sheets, a deputy sheriff arrived at 5:05 p.m.; an EMT/deputy, at 5:09 p.m.; the Fairystone Volunteer Fire Department, at 5:15 p.m.; and the Smith River Rescue Squad, at 5:23 p.m., Waugh said. Transport of Witcher began at 5:31 p.m., he said.
A news release from the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office said Witcher, 18, of Circle Drive, Martinsville, was pronounced dead at Pioneer Hospital in Stuart after being taken there by an ambulance from the Smith River Rescue Squad.
Waugh said that after lifeguards were alerted that Witcher was under water, all five lifeguards on duty went into the water.
In addition to searching for Witcher, lifeguards got or tried to get people out of the water (or keep them from going in the water) so lifeguards could concentrate on the search and rescue themselves, Waugh has said.
There was an “impassioned plea” by family to get people to go in the water to help search, and lifeguards, after being unable to get some people out of the water, instead tried to organize search lines, Waugh said.
Investigators from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation had interviewed nine eyewitnesses from the public and were trying to interview two more, Waugh said Monday. That’s not counting staff members who had been interviewed, he added.
Investigators had been to North Carolina twice and were trying to reach an eyewitness in Atlanta by phone, Waugh said.
“We have reached out to talk to the family,” but so far had not talked with anyone from the family, Waugh said.
Some family members have criticized some of the lifeguards’ handling of the incident.
Waugh said the lifeguards on duty ranged in age from 18 to 40. All the lifeguards are certified by the Red Cross.
At the main tower, lifeguard equipment includes a back or spinal board and response kit with CPR items, Waugh said.
All lifeguards have been trained to work with rescue tubes (a lifesaving device) and have whistles, Waugh added.
Waugh said he previously stated incorrectly that a lifeguard had to assist someone who was in the water in getting back to shore or shallow water while the search for Witcher was under way. Waugh later learned that was incorrect, he said.
Witcher had recently graduated from Martinsville High School and was scheduled to enter the Army in September.