Coroners warn against freshwater swimming

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Lakes, ponds and rivers may look calm and great to swim in, but that doesn’t mean they are.
Matthew Morgan’s April 10 drowning in Appoloosa Lake was Lee County’s first freshwater drowning in four years, according to Coroner Carolyn Gillentine-Green. Despite being a good swimmer, Matthew, 16, drowned after going under the murky water and out of sight of the friends he was swimming with. Because of the murkiness of the water, Matthew’s friends were unable to locate him before he drowned.
Gillentine-Green said lakes like Appoloosa cause problems that even the most seasoned swimmers can’t always overcome.
“These freshwater areas are uncontrollable for swimmers,” said Gillentine-Green. “They are muddy, cold and full of things that can possibly hang you up on the bottom. Then when you add in an unpredictable undercurrent, you have a recipe for disaster.”
Since 2008, Monroe County Coroner Alan Gurley has handled three freshwater drownings. Two of those were teenagers ages 14 and 15. One drowned in the Old Tombigbee River and the other in the fast-flowing Buttahatchie River. Gurley said out of the three deaths, only one person couldn’t swim. The two teens drowned after being swept under by strong undercurrents.
“Some of these rivers like the Buttahatchie are very swift moving and especially after it rains,” said Gurley. “But swimmers being in an uncontrolled area and being unfamiliar with the dangers of the water contributes to problems when swimming in rivers.”
Gillentine-Green said teenagers seem to be more susceptible to freshwater drownings this time of year. Because most public pools are still closed, she said sometimes young people turn to freshwater swimming as a substitute.
“Sometimes you have teenagers out enjoying the warm weather and wanting to swim with nowhere to go and that’s when they get into trouble by jumping in lakes and rivers,” said Gillentine-Green.

Swimming tips
- Select a supervised area.
- Select an area that has good water
quality and safe natural conditions.
- Make sure the water is deep enough be-
fore entering headfirst. Too many swimmers
are seriously injured every year by entering
headfirst into water that is too shallow. A
feet-first entry is much safer than diving.
- Avoid drainage ditches and arroyos.
After heavy rains, they can quickly change
into raging rivers that can easily take a
human life. Fast water and debris in the
current make ditches and arroyos very
dangerous.