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Victim of Neuse River drowning tried to save friend

Posted July 9, 2008

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— Family members say their loved one drowned trying to save the life of a friend.

Police say three men went swimming Wednesday morning in the murky Neuse River.

One survived, the bodies of two others were later pulled from the waters off New Bern Avenue in Raleigh.

At about 2 a.m. Wednesday, three men swam across the river and walked to the Milburnie Dam.

Just before 3 a.m., the men began to swim back. When one of the men called out for help, the other two men swam out to help but couldn't get to him. Only one man made it out of the water.

“The gentleman that called us had been diving under the water trying to find his friend to see if he could find him underwater. When he resurfaced he didn't see his original friend or the friend who went in to rescue him,” Jeff Hammerstein, Wake County emergency services chief, said.

The men who drowned were later identified as John Brian Taylor, 21, and Michael Patrick McDowell, 20.

"He just didn't get back. He didn't make it,” said Crystal Williams, McDowell's sister.

McDowell's family said he drowned trying to rescue Taylor.

"I still don't believe it is true now. Even after I have seen the body come out and everything,” said William Riley, McDowell's father.

The surviving swimmer called 911.

"I had two friends swimming with me in the Neuse River and they didn't come up,” the unidentified man told a 911 dispatcher.

Riley said McDowell was athletic and a very good swimmer.

"He could swim. He could swim laps. I have seen him swim laps. Stay under water long. There had to be something, you know. There must be a real current to pull him under,” Riley said.

McDowell was also a star running back at East Wake High School and graduated a few years ago, his father said.

"He was just a good kid, very good kid," Williams said of her brother.

Nancy Leatherwood, a family friend of McDowell, said the section of the Neuse River the men were visiting is a popular nighttime hangout.

“It is very dark down there, you can't see (and) that's part of the problem,” Leatherwood said. “I wish they'd lock that place up there at night because of the fact people do go out there."

The park is only open from sun up to sun down. There are large, metal gates and chains to keep people out at night. However, officials with Raleigh Parks and Recreation said the gates are seldom closed, because there is no gate keeper.


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  • Dr. Dataclerk Jul 10, 2008

    it is illegal to carry a weapon on the property.

    You must be wanting to go to prison, my friend. Think before you write something on board.

  • colliedave Jul 10, 2008

    I believe signs should be posted to the dangers that can happen if someone decides to get in the water knowing that they cannot swim

    And criminals with guns will be stopped in the tracks if there are signs indicating it is illegal to carry a weapon on the property.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Jul 10, 2008

    I believe signs should be posted to the dangers that can happen if someone decides to get in the water knowing that they cannot swim. Parents are you aware that your young child living in your home is drinking alcohol beverages? Find out if you don't know. There are signs to look for. Get them help and save their life. ALCOHOL CAN KILL.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Jul 10, 2008

    But, too often, alcohol and youth overrule common sense.

    This comment you made, can be said for adults as well. Remember that!

  • Godschild43 Jul 10, 2008

    My prayers are with all the familys and the surviving frined.So young and sad.

  • Handle With Care Jul 10, 2008

    Thirty years ago when my brother was six, my family was there fishing.We looked around and my brother was gone in the blink of an eye, we searched every where and my Dad found him under the water. He pulled him out and gave him CPR until he started breathing again. I feel so sorry for this family's loss. This is such a fun place in Raleigh to go,with the waterfalls and huge fish.There should be signs warning of dangerous under currents.

  • iwideopen Jul 10, 2008

    They should post the pictures, AT THE LAKE, of each and every person that drowns in the river. Then maybe, just maybe, people will start to think before they act.

  • colliedave Jul 10, 2008

    This place need to be secured from all humans for their safety.

    A locked gate would not have stopped them as they would have just climbed over the gate. Common sense indicates their actions were not responsible. But, too often, alcohol and youth overrule common sense.

  • moonpie Jul 10, 2008

    Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

  • 1opinion Jul 10, 2008

    From my political consious, the gate open/closed had nothing to do with this tragedy.
    These were not 3 yr olds who got out of the yard.
    Please let's not raise taxes to hire a gatekeeper.

    From my personal side, I have kid's not much younger than these guys, and they would do something like this (because they are young), and so have I in my younger days. Feeling very bad for the families, hoping they find the strength to get thru it.