07/18/12 — Busco Beach: Teen's death 'tragic'

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Busco Beach: Teen's death 'tragic'

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on July 18, 2012 1:46 PM

After facing their fifth drowning accident since 2000 last week, officials at Busco Beach are reminding their patrons to tread carefully when going in the lake or hopping on an ATV.

Jaimel Cooper, 14, of Raleigh was swimming across the lake July 8 when he and his friend began struggling. Rescuers managed to pull the other boy from the water, but Cooper disappeared and his body was not recovered until early the next morning.

Busco Beach owner Doug Jackson said he is still shaken by the accident, but he said it was no one's fault.

"It's a tragedy," he said. "It's horrible. No one should lose their child."

A local television station reported Wednesday that Cooper's friend said the sand in the lake began "pulling their feet down." There was another drowning case at Busco Beach in 2011 when reports said a man drowned after becoming stuck in sand.

When asked about posting signs over dangerous areas, however, Jackson said he didn't think there were any dangerous spots in the lake, which is man-made.

"People walked across that lake, across that same area, and came back," he said.

Maj. Tom Effler of the Wayne County Sheriff's Department said he has heard reports of people getting stuck in sand at Busco Beach before, but he doesn't think that was the case this time.

"The reports said they were in deep water," Effler said. "I don't think (Cooper) was caught in sand in this situation."

Jackson, who took over as Busco Beach's owner four months ago, said he didn't think the lake was dangerous, but that people need to remember that they are swimming at their own risk.

"They need to be responsible," he said. "When you have a thousand, two thousand people, you've got to be responsible. Just use common sense."

Part of that involves wearing life jackets and making sure swimmers are being supervised, Jackson said. There are no lifeguards at Busco Beach, and patrons must sign waivers relieving the park of responsibility before entering.

If swimmers find themselves tired out in deep water, the best thing they can do is try to float on their backs and reach something they can hold on to, said Sarah Judy, head lifeguard at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park.

"The first thing we try to remind people is don't panic," she said. "A lot of times when people start to panic is when they become active drowners."

For swimmers who become stuck in sand or weeds, Ms. Judy said the most important thing is to stay calm and try to free themselves without panicking.

And above all, she said, don't swim without a buddy, and always tell someone where you are going to be.

But the lake has not been the only cause of accidents at Busco Beach in recent years. The park has also seen its share of deaths from ATV crashes -- at least six since 2000, according to records from the Wayne County Sheriff's Office and The News-Argus' archives.

Many of the cases involved victims who were not wearing helmets -- something Jackson said he and his staff do not tolerate.

"They'll wear a helmet, or they'll be asked to leave," he said.

North Carolina law has required ATV riders to wear helmets since 2005, and Jackson said he upholds that law.

"Wear the equipment when you use those machines," he said. "Be as safe as possible."

The park hasn't seen any fatal ATV accidents since 2010, and Sunday's drowning was the first fatality Jackson has seen since becoming owner.

"This tears me all to pieces," he said. "I want this to be a place people can come have fun and enjoy themselves."

Jackson said he's willing to take any and all measures toward customer safety, but for now he believes common sense and vigilance are best.

"We sure don't want people going out there and getting hurt," he said. "You better believe it."