Drownings focus attention on water safety

MYRTLE – Two weekend drowning deaths have focused attention on water safety in Northeast Mississippi.
Tracy Smith, 26, a Union County resident, drowned late Sunday afternoon in the Tallahatchie River channel near Enterprise during an outing with friends. Earlier in the day, Justin Kitchens of Tupelo, also 26, died while swimming in a pond.
Smith had been in the channel at County Road 46 when he disappeared beneath the water’s surface. A nearby fisherman reportedly called 911 about 7:30 p.m. Sunday to report the accident.
Rescue personnel said the river, which had sand bars across much of its width just upstream from the bridge, was more than 20 feet deep just a few yards downstream.
“The boys had been jumping off the bridge, and the way I understand it, (Smith) couldn’t swim,” said Union County Sheriff Tommy Wilhite.
Deputy Coroner Sherri Williams said the death is presumed to be an accidental drowning, but Smith’s body was being sent to Jackson for an autopsy on Monday.
Divers from the Union County Sheriff’s Office and a boat crew from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks spent several hours in the river before locating Smith’s body.
Kitchens died Sunday around noon while swimming with a friend in a pond in the Furrs community of Pontotoc County.
Nothing can remove all risk from swimming, but Pontotoc County Sheriff Neal Davis said he’s seen the value of several common-sense precautions.
“Having someone with you is crucial, even though it didn’t save this young man,” he said. “Know your limits, whether you can swim across the pond.”
No authorities have reported or implied that alcohol or other drugs were involved in either of Sunday’s drownings, but nationwide, alcohol is a factor in about half of adolescent and adult deaths related to water recreation.
“Swimming and alcohol don’t mix, just like drinking and driving,” Davis said.

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.

Errol Castens / NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau