Pointe Coupee drowning leads to safety device proposal

The recent drowning of a 19-year-old Morganza man has the Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury considering installing flotation devices at public boat launches throughout the parish’s three recreational waterways.

But legal concerns could sink the proposal before it leaves the dock. Parish leaders learned this week the Police Jury may not have the authority to install the flotation devices — at least not at boat launches owned by private businesses.

Juror Justin Cox, who presented the idea to the Police Jury at its July 22 meeting, is convinced providing life ring buoys to the public could help prevent another drowning like one that occurred near a boat landing in False River several weeks ago.

“The Police Jury is responsible for governing the parish and coming up with things that improve the quality of life,” Cox said. “This is something that could be a minimal expense that might not be an everyday responsibility of the jury, but it’s something we could promote knowing we see a problem that could be helped with input from the parish’s governing body.”

Life rings are tire-shaped inner tubes certified by the U.S. Coast Guard that can be tossed out to potential drowning victims so they can be pulled ashore.

Cox, who works as an EMT with Acadian Ambulance, was at the scene of the July 14 drowning where Marlon Sharper’s lifeless body was pulled out of False River near the old Bonaventure Boat Landing on La. 1 in Oscar.

According to the police report, Sharper was working with his brother at the Sandbar that afternoon when the tragedy occurred.

It’s unclear in the police report how Sharper got into the water, but his brother Michael Houston told investigators Sharper had asked how deep the water was near the edge of the boat landing. Houston responded that it was probably 7 or 8 feet deep, the police report says.

Houston told investigators he then went inside the Sandbar to take some measurements and when he came out and moved his truck, Sharper was already in the water and struggling to stay afloat.

The police reports says Houston jumped in the water to try and save his brother but he was unable to pull him to safety because Sharper was fighting to tread the water’s surface.

Sharper’s body was pulled out of the water about 5 p.m. approximately 10 feet from where Houston saw him go under, according to the police report.

“I’ve been in the emergency profession for awhile and I’ve seen many accidents near boat launches,” Cox said.

Cox wants to install the life ring buoys at the public boat launches in False River, Old River and Big Alabama Bayou near Krotz Springs.

Cox said the parish owns between six to 10 boat launches in the parish with the remaining belonging to several local businesses.

He estimates it would cost between $150 to $200 each to install the life ring buoys, which would be attached to a post by a rope on the boat launches.

Cox said he is hopeful the parish might be able to share installation costs with local nonprofits who share the Police Jury’s goal to save lives.

“At the end of the day, we’re talking initial costs of about $2,000 in total,” he said. “I would think the Police Jury would want to pay for them.”

A majority of the Police Jury appeared interested in Cox’s idea when he presented it, but there may be obstacles ahead in making it happen.

Parish Administrator Jimmy Bello says there could be a legal challenge in trying to force private businesses to install the buoys on their docks.

“Possible legal issues in maintenance, assurance this is functional and is on site. I feel that there should be more information before the jury tries to place or have buoys placed at any launch,” he wrote in an email Tuesday.

Cox said Thursday the parish attorney has advised him the Police Jury lacks authority to mandate the installation of life rings at any boat launch the parish doesn’t own.

However, Cox still has hopes his idea may appeal to business owners who wouldn’t mind having the flotation devices available on their docks.

“You always have some people who will be resistant to another regulation or mandate, but its a good debate and I welcome that debate,” Cox said.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter @tjonesreporter.