Moms

Drowning draws attention to danger of low-water dams

FORT WORTH -- Richard Walker and his family were preparing to adopt two children when a drowning accident took the 47-year-old man's life.

Walker and his wife had taken the two foster children, ages 7 and 8, to the Trinity River park Monday. Walker, of Winnsboro, drowned as he attempted to save his wife and the 7-year-old girl. The two were pulled out of the water by a passing bicyclist.

The siblings are under the care of a foster family, said Marissa Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Child Protective Services in Arlington. A therapist is available to help them, she said.

"Obviously, it is a really, really tough time for them," Gonzalez said. "The little girl is OK, but it is a really sad situation for everyone involved."

The drowning occurred at a low-water dam between the Interstate 30 and West Lancaster Avenue bridges.

Hours after saving the woman and girl, bicyclist Jim Harrison went to check in on the woman at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.

He said her family and church members thanked him.

"That really was the thing that brought it full circle," Harrison said Tuesday. "They could have lost everything."

The low-water dam is one of three in Trinity Park that feature chutes or channels. The dams are maintained by the Tarrant Regional Water District.

Water district officials are gathering facts surrounding Monday's drowning.

"As we do with all tragedies of this nature, we will gather facts and evaluate how the public accesses this low-water dam," spokesman Chad Lorance said.

The district maintains 16 low-water dams throughout the Fort Worth floodway, which covers the Trinity River from downtown to near Camp Carter on the West Fork, and to Southwest Boulevard on the Clear Fork. The three low-water dams in Trinity Park are the only ones to feature chutes.

The chutes are used by kayakers, but the district said they weren't built for recreation.

"The low-water dams are built to slow the flow of the river and to serve as a sediment retention area," Lorance said.

The water moving through the chutes appears to move more quickly than other areas of the river, but whether the chutes played a part in Monday's drowning is unknown.

"We are still gathering the facts of this tragedy," Lorance said. "We don't know what if any part the chutes may have played in this incident."

Adelaide Leavens, executive director of Streams and Valleys Inc., a nonprofit that helps fund recreational development along the Trinity, said the river varies from wading depth to as deep as 10 feet. Storm runoff can increase flows greatly.

Water district officials said that on Monday the flow was minimal through the section of the river in question.

Fort Worth Fire Department spokesman Tim Hardeman said that people need to be aware of their surroundings and that being near lakes and rivers without knowing how to swim is hazardous. A fast current can also be dangerous.

"Any water moving swiftly can be dangerous regardless of your level of swimming," Hardeman said. "It can overwhelm you very quickly."

Despite Monday's tragedy, children and adults alike went to the low-water dams Tuesday to feed ducks or fish. The dams are inviting, with stonelike steps leading to them. Parents at the park Tuesday said signs need to be posted to warn people that the area can be dangerous.

Robert Chapa took one look at the low-water dam at Trinity Park and told his daughters they wouldn't be climbing on the inviting rock formation that connects one bank to the other.

"I told the girls we can't cross because it is slippery," Chapa said, pointing to moss on the rocks.

Harrison is concerned that another accident could happen near the low-water dams, which attract children.

"They want to reach out and touch [the water]," he said. "They want to feel it on their hands. It's human nature."

DIANE SMITH, 817-390-7675

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