LUMBERTON — Witnesses to a drowning a Luther Britt Park last weekend described a chaotic scene, creating conflicting stories on what lifeguards and emergency responders did to save a 22-year-old’s life.
Nathan Jenkins drowned in the lake at Luther Britt Park after disappearing under the water around 1 p.m. on July 9. Rescue workers attempted to resuscitate Jenkins for 10 to 15 minutes before he was taken to Southeastern Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Jenkins’ wife, Brittany, said lifeguards at the park didn’t do enough to save her husband, while a witness and a park superintendent say lifeguards hit the water as soon as they heard someone calling for help. There were four lifeguards on duty at the time and about five people swimming.
“The lifeguards didn’t do what they were supposed to do to save my husband,” Jenkins said. “In my opinion, Luther Britt Park needs to be shut down until they get better lifeguards and life jackets.”
According Kenneth Hailey, an environmental officer for the county who watched the drowning unfold, lifeguards responded to calls for help, but they were on the beach, far from the dock where Jenkins and his family were swimming at the time.
By the time the lifeguards got to Jenkins, he was already under water, according to Hailey and John Jacobs, superintendent of Luther Britt Park.
Jacobs said one of his lifeguards saw Jenkins go under about halfway through her swim to save him. She began diving under the murky water to locate Jenkins, but could not see him. Three other lifeguards arrived soon afterward, according to Jacobs, and took turns diving under the water to locate him.
Hailey called police during the chaos.
“I had realized no one had called 911. With everything going on, I guess the family was hollering and mad,” Hailey said. “They were upset each time the lifeguards came up empty-handed. The water is so dark so I can understand why they couldn’t find him.”
Emergency responders, according to Roger Taylor, commander of Lumberton Rescue and Emergency Medical Services, arrived shortly after Hailey made the call.
It’s unclear whether it was a lifeguard or an emergency responder who ultimately pulled Jenkins from the water.
Jacobs said that Jenkins was the only person left in the water when he drowned. The rest of his family was on a dock. Hailey said it seemed that Jenkins was waiting to get out of the water when he drowned.
“There was very little warning,” he said, expressing condolences to the family.
“It seemed like the guy could swim but maybe he couldn’t tread water. It looked like he stopped trying to swim. He never came back up,” he said.
Jacobs said the struggle to stay afloat may be attributed to the depth of the water in the area where Jenkins was swimming.
“Nathan had swam past the rope,” he said. “Once you swim past the rope, it drops off. As soon as he called for help, one of the lifeguards dove in.”
Jacobs said the rope separates where it is safe to swim and where it isn’t.
According to Jenkins, who was present during the drowning, her husband of two years knew how to swim and loved the outdoors. The family has started a GoFundMe account at gofundme.com/2eadkxrw to help pay for funeral and burial costs.
Swimming is allowed in the lake at Luther Britt Park on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. A no swimming sign is posted Monday to Thursday when lifeguards are not on duty. Jacobs said Jenkins’ death is the third drowning death at Luther Britt Park since it opened in 1986.
Gabrielle Isaac can be reached at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @news_gabbie.