Local News

First responder in Neuse River drownings: Water was unsafe

Posted July 18, 2012
Updated July 19, 2012

— A Wake County sheriff's deputy who jumped into the Neuse River Monday afternoon in a desperate rescue effort said the water was rough and murky when two children drowned near the Old Milburnie Dam.

"I took off my uniform and everything I had on to try to locate them," Master Deputy Kenneth Kay said Wednesday. "Going underneath, we could not see anything."

He said that currents were so strong underneath the surface, another officer had to push him down to get to the bottom.

Police say cousins H'Katherine R'Com, 10, and Johnny Nay, 7, were fishing with family members at the dam when they went into what appeared to be still water, got pulled under and never resurfaced.

Their bodies were found about four hours later.

Kay and two Raleigh police officers were among the first to arrive on the scene. All three jumped into the water, despite the dangerous currents.

"I have got a little girl at home and I kind of look at it the same way – if my kid is in there, I'm going to stay in there," Kay said.

Master Deputy Kenneth Kay First responder in Neuse River drownings: Water was unsafe

Jeff Hammerstein, district chief for Wake County Emergency Medical Services, said that, when it comes to bodies of water, looks can be deceiving.

Though the water appeared still where the children went in, currents whipped up by the Old Milburnie Dam, churned by objects underneath, make the area especially unpredictable.

"(The currents) can easily pull a person under and hold them under," he said. 

He added that swimming in moving, unfamiliar water is never a good idea.

Fishermen who frequent the river say the rushing water near the dam is too dangerous for swimmers.

In July 2008, two men, John Brian Taylor, 21, and Michael Patrick McDowell, 20, also drowned while swimming in the area.


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  • trianglerelic Jul 19, 2012

    I've seen fishmen swim out into the pool just below the falls to untangle their lines, but they usually take some type of flotation device. Saw one use an empty foam cooler. Anyhow, it may be a good idea to put up signs "No Swiming, Dangerous Currents"... One might think this would be obvious below a dam or waterfall, but movies fool us by showing people swimming in these places.

  • warbirdlover Jul 19, 2012

    There are lots of these derelict dams around the country, that are throwbacks from a different time that need to be removed. I not familiar with this particular dam. Is it a old textile mill dam?

  • tootiefrootie Jul 19, 2012

    Many thanks to Deputy Kay and the RPD officers for their bravery and will to search for those children. So sorry to read they didn't make it. Prayers for the family.

  • OneLove Jul 19, 2012

    I'm just never, ever gonna allow my kids to play in the river. That rushing water looks so calm on the surface....but it is NOT. Praying for the family's comfort, it is a very heart-breaking situation.

  • batricia1 Jul 19, 2012

    Life Jackets when your dealing with Dam turbulance provide no help. I went up to Danville va a few years ago to search for a child that fell off a boat near a dam. The water turbulance pulled his vest and clothes off within a min according to witnesses. The best idea is to stay away from a dam

  • RALEIGHNATIVE25 Jul 19, 2012

    I hope this story is a wake up call, LIFE JACKETS !!It is very sad this mother lost two children.

  • itsmyownopinion Jul 19, 2012

    It's a terrible place to fish, or even think of getting in the water as an adult, and certainly not a good place for children to play. This is such a sad story.

  • beachinit Jul 19, 2012

    Great job Deputy Kay, and great job to the two unnamed RPD officer's who also jumped in to search for these children for four hours. I hope thier family finds peace.

  • Fireflies Rock Jul 19, 2012

    Kudos to Deputy Kay for risking his life to try to save these poor children; I have a lot of respect for him.

  • greg69innc Jul 19, 2012

    Of all the places to go fishing and they pick this one. So sad