Legislator to seek state oversight of Louisiana water parks

J. Rogers Pope
J. Rogers Pope

A state lawmaker says he wants to file legislation to give state agencies oversight over Louisiana water parks after a teenager drowned Tuesday at a Denham Springs water park.

Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, said water parks do have to file for building permits, but aren’t regulated by the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal or any other such agencies.

“There’s no state agency that has oversight on these water parks,” Pope said in disclosing that he will begin working on legislation to submit to the 2014 session of the Louisiana Legislature.

Nick Kissner, 14, of Port Allen, drowned Tuesday at the newly opened Cajun Lagoon water park off La. 16 between Denham Springs and Watson, Livingston Parish authorities have said.

Firefighters and sheriff’s deputies were called around 1 p.m. about the drowning. Medical personnel tried to revive the youth but were unsuccessful, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s Office also responded to the scene.

A family friend of the owners told reporters Tuesday that on-duty lifeguards performed CPR until medical personnel arrived.

Deputies do not suspect foul play in the boy’s death, the Sheriff’s Office has said.

The incident was still under investigation Friday, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Gene Higginbotham said.

Cajun Lagoon, which opened in April, features a man-made lake and offers swimming, water slides and volleyball, among other aquatic activities.

The park reopened Friday after closing Tuesday following Kissner’s death.

Cajun Lagoon officials have said park officials would decline comment on the drowning until the Sheriff’s Office completes its investigation into the matter.

A Cajun Lagoon manager hung up the phone Friday when contacted by The Advocate for further comment about the drowning and Pope’s proposed legislation.

Nick Kissner had traveled to the water park with a Sunday school group for a summer party, his father John Kissner has said.

John Kissner has said the park is unsafe for young children such as his son.

Pope said he began looking into the issue shortly after the drowning. He said he has not visited the park and likely would not do so until the Sheriff’s Office completes its investigation.

Pope said he’s still drafting plans but is looking into new requirements such as a minimum number of lifeguards on duty based on the number of people at the park.

Pope said he’s not looking to lay any blame in light of the drowning and isn’t trying to “run anybody out of business.”

“I’m not looking at this one entrepreneur out here (at Cajun Lagoon),” Pope said. “We’ve got several of these (water parks) around the state, and nobody’s got oversight.”

Pope said he has contacted the Fire Marshal’s Office and the state Department of Health and Hospitals about looking into the issue.

“I think all of them are on board with what we’re trying to do,” he said.

State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said legislators already have asked his office for advice in connection with the proposed legislation.

He said his office will wait for more information from the Livingston Sheriff’s Office about the drowning before making any recommendations.

Browning confirmed his office has no oversight authority over water parks in Louisiana.

Browning, when asked if Cajun Lagoon is unsafe, said his investigators are still waiting on more information from the Sheriff’s Office. He said the park, by employing lifeguards for duty at the lake, indicates “a sense of responsibility that the owners had.”

Browning said Friday that his investigators have learned that some of the park’s buildings were not properly reviewed by his office before the park opened.

Such violations are common, Browning said.

That investigation has nothing to do with the boy’s death, Browning said.

“But it certainly is a safety concern,” he said.

The questionable buildings simply surround the park’s man-made lake and include the park’s concession stand, Browning said.

The Fire Marshal’s Office has requested plans from Cajun Lagoon so investigators can review the buildings for items such as handicapped accessibility.