K-9 helps locate drowning victim on High Rock Lake

Published 12:11 am Monday, June 27, 2016

By Darrick Ignasiak

The Lexington Dispatch

SOUTHMONT — A rescue K-9 is being credited with helping locate the body Sunday of a 24-year-old male drowning victim who went missing Saturday in Swearing Creek on High Rock Lake.

Dina, a German shepherd from the Thomasville Rescue Squad, made the alert about 9:30 a.m. Emergency personnel were notified about 2:45 p.m. Saturday of the missing swimmer. The search was suspended Saturday night due to darkness and picked back up about 8 a.m. Sunday.

Roxye Marshall of the N.C. USAR Task Force 5 Marine 5 K9 Unit arrived at the scene late Saturday evening. Marshall said Dina was put on the water early Sunday in tandem with sonar.

“She alerted the sonar operator to an anomaly,” she said. “The sonar operators were very proficient and were able to mark the anomaly with a buoy and a line that enabled the divers to make a pretty quick recovery. What it is, it’s a matter of teaming a dog that is working scent with technology.”

Southmont firefighters and emergency personnel initially were unsure whether the victim was under the water, said Larry Morgan, deputy chief with the Southmont Fire Department. Witnesses told rescue personnel that the man was last seen swimming in the lake.

“We really did not know if we actually had a victim or not,” Morgan said. “As our efforts continued, we did discover that we did have a young man who was found in the lake this morning.”

Morgan said High Rock Lake doesn’t have a lot of drownings. However, he explained this summer has started out with two drownings versus zero last year.

“We try to get people to make the right decision and wear their flotation devices if they are going to be out there swimming,” the deputy chief said. “This could have been avoided just by a simple flotation device. … It doesn’t take just a couple of seconds to go wrong.”

Morgan said Dina was a great resource. He explained the dog marked the scent, allowing sonar and divers to make the recovery.

The missing swimmer was from Winston-Salem, said Larry James, director of Davidson County Emergency Services. The man was located in the search area of Swearing Creek, the director confirmed. His name was not released by James as family members were still en route to Davidson County.

“I think it was a tremendous effort from all those involved from our county and from the mutual aid that came in from other counties,” James said. “They did a tremendous job and put a great effort in (Saturday) to look for the body. Sometimes they are located quickly and sometimes they are not. This is one of the cases that it wasn’t located quickly, but it wasn’t due to the lack of effort on the part of the search crews.”

Danny Sams, chief of the Davidson County Rescue Squad, said his agency is stressing water safety after the second drowning of the summer at High Rock Lake. He said people need to remember the importance of wearing lifejackets. Sams said both drowning victims this summer were not wearing lifejackets.

“We still got a long summer ahead of us,” he said. “I hope this is our last time out on the water. All of the agencies come together and work together like they did, I appreciate it.”

Sams said citizens must wear a lifejacket if they are on 10 feet of still water. He said residents even on boats should wear the lifejackets.

“In swift water, within 15 foot, you got to have a lifejacket,” Sams said.

Sams said four individuals were on Swearing Creek and decided to go swimming. He said the four people were excellent swimmers. Sams said they had been spotted several times swimming all the way across the lake.

Three of the friends swam back to the shore but the fourth didn’t make it back, James said Saturday. Sams said Sunday that the incident appeared to be accidental.

A total of 14 agencies worked together during the rescue efforts. Efforts to reach Davidson County Sheriff’s Office officials were not immediately successful Sunday.