Reports: State park where boy died claims several victims

A 12-year-old boy was killed and his 17-year-old brother had to be rescued after an accident at High Falls State Park on Tuesday.

JACKSON, Ga. – High Falls State Park is a park known for its waterfalls, lush trails and large rocks—but despite warning signs meant to detour park-goers from the waterfalls and slippery rocks, the picturesque water has lured nearly a dozen to get a closer look or to snap that perfect photo, leaving them with injuries, or ultimately, killing them.

Dating back to 2013, 14 people have been injured at the 1,050-acre state park have been documented by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Ten of those injuries, including three this year, occurred either on a trail near the waterfall, at the top of the waterfall, or slipping on the rocks in the water.

Located northwest of Macon, Ga., the state park, surrounded by the Towaliga River, includes a 650-acre lake, a campground, fishing, boating, hiking and a swimming pool. It also features a beautiful waterfall, rushing waters and large boulders. In fact, the park is named after its cascading waterfalls.

Feb. 27, 2013 | Albany, Ga., man is pinned after a tree falls on him, breaking his leg. He cut the tree that was hung inside another pine tree. When he tried to free it, it fell on him.

June 13, 2013 | A Barnesville, Ga., woman was walking on a trail with two friends, but when they left the trail and walked through the woods, she fell and scraped her chin.

Aug. 23, 2013 | An unidentified boy fell on a trail.

May 3, 2014 | A woman was walking on an unauthorized area along the falls and slipped on a rock and fell, spraining her ankle.

July 4, 2014 | A Maryland woman was walking on the rocks along the river’s west bank. She fell and struck her head on a rock, causing a cut on the side of her head.

Sept. 16, 2014 | A man slipped and fell twice on the waterfalls nearby Falls View Trail. He was taken to the hospital with a back injury.

Nov. 7, 2015 | A Milner, Ga., man slipped and fell on the rocks along the Historic Trail and hit his head.

May 26, 2017 | Hiker, Danielle Flanagan, of Savannah, Ga., falls from the top of a waterfall and drowns. 

Aug. 5, 2017 | A Locust Gove, Ga., woman and her family were walking along the Historic Trail, nearby the waterfall overlook. She slipped on the incline, but caught her fall. She injured in her wrist.

Christian Burdette was not so lucky.

MORE | 12-year-old dies after being swept away in waterfall at state park

Christian, 12, was the latest victim of the state park, just off Interstate 75, that attracts visitors from multiple states.

Christian was killed and his 17-year-old brother, James Burdette, had to be rescued after an accident at High Falls State Park on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

Monroe County Emergency Management Director Matthew Perry said that a 911 call came in around 11:30 a.m. The caller stated that the two boys had been swept over the falls and plummeted about 20 feet.

A witness heard a scream and called 911.

Rescue crews arrived and witnessed that one of the boys was alert in a shallow area near a rock. 

The water was high from previous rainfall from the weekend, creating a perfect storm for disaster.

James was in was inaccessible by boat and it soon became obvious to the rescue team that they would have to retrieve him by air.

A crew from Kennesaw, Ga., responded by air and rescued the teenage boy from the rocks. He was transported to a local hospital. Christian was also retrieved by air. He was laying on a rock, but was dead.

Perry said that it appeared that the boys had strayed from the hiking trails before their fall.

RELATED | 17-year-old survivor of accident that killed brother shares his story: 'It just ripped me apart'

“I mean, we do this all the time,” James told 11Alive. “We don't think twice about it.”

Burdette said he and his brother Christian were regulars at the park, however, when they went on that day, he and his brother entered the water through a rarely used trail off High Falls Road.

Unlike other trails, there is warning sign, telling visitors that swimming is prohibited, but James admitted that they usually blow off the signs cautioning danger.

They went to the water, as they did many times, but on that day, he said, the water was rougher than usual. They started in a calmer portion of the water and walked toward the rapids.

“[Christian] took a step and just went in,” James said, who dove in to grab his brother by the arm, but Christian told him, “I'm going to die.”

“And I said, 'No, you're not buddy.' And it wasn't like, scared or nervous. It was just, 'I'm about to die.'"

The older brother said that’s when the raging waters swept over his little brother and he lost ahold of him.

“I'm [was] trying to swim up,” he remembered. “Finally, I found something and pulled myself up.”

But by then, his younger brother was gone.

He was the second fatally injured victim this year.

On May 26, 37-year-old Danielle Flanagan died after falling at the park.

MORE | Woman plummets to her death in May

The Monroe County Sheriff's Office got the call around 5:45 p.m.

Flanagan, of Savannah, Ga., was with her husband and child when she fell off one of the park’s waterfalls, Monroe County Sheriff's Sgt. Lawson Bittick said.

Her husband told emergency personnel that he witnessed his wife walk across the fence at the top of the waterfall, remove her flip flops and step out onto the flat rocks on top of the waterfall. She sat down to take a photo of the falls, but when she tried to stand up, she lost her footing and fell all the way to the bottom of the falls, he recalled.

EMS arrived on the scene and pulled Flanagan from the water. Crews performed CPR, resuscitating her breathing. However, she was taken to Monroe County Hospital where she was later pronounced dead.

DNR Conservation Sgt. Tony Fox said the warmer months are the time of year when they start to see an increase in drowning incidents.

“Unfortunately, drownings are all too common. It happens every summer; we deal with it.”

It appears Flanagan hit some rocks during the fall, and may have suffered traumatic injuries, Fox said in May.

According to the incident report, the cause of death was drowning with complications due to blunt force trauma to the head.

On Sept. 29, Ranger First Class Jessica Spencer, with the DNR, who was investigating her death finalized her conclusion. 

"Based on interviews, statements and associated reports it is my opinion that Danielle Flanagan did not obey the warning signs and crossed over the railing near the viewing platform." 

During her investigation, Spencer observed and documented four warning signs to hikers to stay off the rocks. 

Earlier this week, Perry reminded park visitors to respect the rules of the park, so that they don’t endanger their life. 

© 2017 WXIA-TV


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