McKinney Falls adding new security measures after several drownings

Divers search for the missing man (KXAN Photo)
Divers search for the missing man (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Police have identified a man’s body pulled from McKinney Falls State Park. Officials say Samuel Westerfeld and a young woman were walking his dog Sunday afternoon in an area under construction and closed off. When the dog slipped and fell into nearby rapids, Samuel followed. Neither resurfaced.

We spoke with the park’s superintendent about what’s being done to keep people at the park safe. “The power of water is not to be underestimated,” McKinney Falls State Park Superintendent Tommy Cude said.

Sunday served as a tragic reminder with 26-year-old Westerfeld losing his life. The area he was found was barricaded and under construction to restore damage the recent Halloween flood left in its wake.

“None of us ever want to see something like this happen. And there has been an uptick it seems, in events like this. In drownings and near-miss drownings,” Cude said.

Surrounded by warning signs, safety rules, and barriers, Cude went on to say, “It’s hard to protect people from themselves if they’re going to make a bad decision, but that’s our job. So we’re always looking for another step, a better step we can take, another angle we can look at it in.”

After an earlier drowning in August, Parks and Wildlife officials began looking at implementing an emergency alert system. According to Austin Police, three people drowned at McKinney Falls between January and August 2015. The funding, around $15,000, comes from the park’s boater education program.

“Something like you see on university campuses – little push button call that goes straight to law enforcement desk,” Cude explained.

The first one will be ready in about a month, as soon as the barricaded portion reopens to the area that’s dangerous.

The goal is to add safety, without taking away nature’s beauty. “It’s untouched and we’re trying to preserve it,” Cude said. “At the same time, let people enjoy it. And that really puts an onus on them to respect nature. Cause it is quite forceful and powerful.”

It’s a force Cude cautions people to reckon with.

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