First responders provide insight into 2 fatal drownings at Lake Corpus Christi

“We were still diving to 20 feet and we were relatively close to shore. Way too many hazards out there, everyone needs to use caution.”

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — For the second time in just a week, another teen has been found under water at Lake Corpus Christi.

San Patricio Sheriff’s department released the identity of 19-year-old Chris Ruiz who reportedly went under after falling from a pontoon boat Sunday afternoon.

It’s another extremely tragic event at one of our local lakes and it’s serving as a somber reminder of the dangers that lurk out on those waters. 

Last weekend, 13-year-old Jeremiah De Leon-Smith jumped into the lake near the small community of Lakeside and never resurfaced.

Authorities caution that visitors keep in mind that there are no lifeguards at the lake and you are swimming at your own risk.

The message from Texas Game Wardens: take safety precautions.

Captain Ben Baker said while game wardens do patrol both Lake Corpus Christi and Choke Canyon, most of the lake is encased by private property.

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“There are no lifeguard patrol boats or no lifeguards patrolling around, everyone needs to swim at their own risk and be aware of that,” Baker said. “If they do get into distress, self recover or have people around them.” 

He said the second drowning involved a vessel in motion and that the victim fell off the boat and into the water.

According to Baker, in both investigations nothing showed beneath the water that appeared to have contributed to the drownings.

“We didn’t see or have anything lead us to believe they were entangled in anything, or stuck in anything,” he said. “Unfortunately, in one particular case, they just panicked, maybe just have that sudden water emersion of taking that big gulp of water.” 

San Patricio Constable Kody Fahrenthold with Precinct 6 is one of two divers who recovered the second victim after game wardens used side-scan sonar to detect a point of interest.

“It’s pitch black down there, you can’t see anything, we can’t monitor our air on the tanks,” Fahrenthold said. “We’re in zero visibility, we are doing everything by touch and by feel. We are communicating by rope signal.” 

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It’s a job he’s been doing for several years now. Fahrenthold provided some insight into the challenges different parts of the reservoir can pose.

“The location we were at this last time, we got to the bottom and it was just mud.” he said. “It’s not solid at all, you sink down into it.” 

Fahrenthold said the lake level being lower also gives visitors a false sense that it might be shallow — it is not.

“We were still diving to 20 feet and we were relatively close to shore,” he said “Way too many hazards out there, everyone needs to use caution.” 

Hazards you can’t see. He reminds visitors that it is a man-made lake and a large one that touches three different counties. 

“There’s also other types of debris down there tree stumps, trees, branches, fishing line, hooks, all different types of wildlife,” Fahrenthold said.

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Bottom line, Baker said wearing a life jacket is a must no mater how strong of a swimmer you are.

“Don’t matter if you’ve been swimming for 40 years or you are 8 years old, if you get in unsure of the bottom and past knee-deep water, have that floatation device on,” Baker said.

The game warden said aside from always having a life jacket on, if you are out on a boat, do a pre-vessel inspection, let someone know you are going out.

He added that the captain of the boat should make sure all passengers have three points of contact: that their feet are planted, they’re sitting and have a hand on an object of that boat. You should also always have a first aid kit on board because of the time it takes for first responders to get to the lake.

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