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Missing Boater Recovered on Belton Lake, Search Continues for 2 on Richland Chambers Reservoir
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Game Wardens today 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.
On the 41,000-acre Richland Chambers Reservoir southeast of Corsicana, four game warden boats as well as a boat from the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office and a command center from the Navarro County Sheriff’s Office continue searching today for 72-year-old Jerry King of Athens and his grandson, 17-year-old Jerrod Rachel.
The two men were fishing on the lake March 24 when, sometime between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., they disappeared. Game Warden Capt. Gary Dugan said that searchers have been able to narrow the likely area of the accident by accessing King’s GPS (global positioning system) logs and following the track of the boat from the day of the accident.
"The wind was blowing pretty hard out of the south-southeast that day, and conditions were rough," Dugan said. "We still don’t know exactly what happened, but there is some damage to the bow of the pontoon boat and it appears that a large wave may have caused one of the boaters to go overboard and the other went after him."
Neither man, apparently, was wearing a lifejacket.
"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."
Dugan, who is leading the Richland-Chambers search, said three of the game warden boats are equipped with side-scan sonar and the search team has requested divers to assist in locating the victims of the accident.
On 12,000-acre Belton Lake, about 5 miles north of the City of Belton, the week-long search involved game wardens, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rangers and members of the Bell County Sheriff’s Office. Frederick D. Munger II, 39, of Belton, died in the March 17 accident, and three other passengers on the boat survived.
"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."
Severe weather on both lakes hampered search efforts Wednesday.
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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