NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – After a tragic incident Sunday in which a toddler drowned and 63 people had to be rescued from the water, four Tennessee lawmakers are calling for changes at Cummins Falls State Park.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” said State Senator Paul Bailey, of Sparta. “You take an inherent risk anytime you go into the falls. But still, once you’re there, it’s our responsibility to make sure that our visitors are as safe as possible.”
Bailey, Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Rep. John Mark Windle (R-Livingston) sent a strongly worded letter to the Department of Environment and Conservation asking why action hasn’t been taken to install a warning system at Cummins Falls.
The lawmakers asked the department for the prompt installation of the system, which has been planned since 2017.
“In 2017, your department announced plans to install a warning system at Cummins Falls State Park to better monitor the gorge’s rising water levels,” the lawmakers wrote in a joint letter to Jim Bryson, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Environment and Conservation. “It is now June 2019, another life has been lost, and the warning system has still not been installed. After the last death, it was our understanding that a system would be implemented in an effort to prevent further deaths. Why has this warning system not been installed at Cummins Falls State Park?”
Three people have died at Cummins Falls in the last two years due to rising flood levels in the gorge. The latest death was 2-year-old Steven Pierce. The child’s body was recovered Monday.
Senator Bailey says TDEC underwent a change in administration between the two floods.
He believes the reason a system wasn’t promptly installed, may lie in a breakdown of communication.
“Spoke to others that were in the previous administration, they thought the system had already been installed, they were very surprised to learn it hadn’t been.” said Sen. Bailey. “So I think there’s been a breakdown somewhere within the department as to the installation of the system.”
At least 50 victims were escorted out under their own power while 13 were rescued by swift water teams in the massive rescue effort Sunday.